Last week, U.S. government pressure shut down three encrypted email services -- including one supposedly used by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden -- and created an opportunity for onetime U.S. government gadfly Kim Dotcom.
In February 2013, Dotcom, creator of online storage locker Mega and its ill-fated predecessor MegaUpload, announced that his company was going to launch an encrypted email service. Then the declaration had the weight of history behind it: Dotcom himself was arrested in 2012 on piracy charges in New Zealand based on information gathered illegally by the New Zealand government at the behest of U.S. authorities. (A New Zealand judge later ruled the search warrants invalid.)
Now, in the wake of yet more government spying revelations and the loss of other encrypted options, Mega CEO Vikram Kumar reminded ZDNet's Rob O'Neill that Mega is still committed to building an encrypted email service. According to Kumar, Mega is "doing some hugely cutting-edge stuff."
Kumar's statement has generated a lot of attention on tech blogs across the web -- not all of it complimentary. Evan Dashevsky of TechHive called the rumored email service just the latest resume padding in Dotcom's "history of troublemaking." But Lauren Hockenson of Gigaom remarked that Dotcom was really going all-in on privacy. In addition to filling the void left by other shutdown services, she wrote, he's also "creating a VC [venture capital] firm that brings up encryption-focused companies."
Admittedly, the news seems far more exciting in the current context than it was when Dotcom first announced he was building encrypted email in February. Back then, the world was awash in encrypted email services: Tormail; Silent Mail; Lavabit, Snowden's reported service. Now those services are gone, and Lavabit's webpage bears a warning from Ladar Levinson, its founder: "Without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States."
Mega's email service, if it comes to fruition, might tempt many of the privacy-conscious now bereft of a satisfactory alternative. Since his unfortunate brush with spying, Dotcom has started making a name for himself as an encryption advocate. Mega calls itself "the Privacy Company" and automatically encrypts every file uploaded to it.
In a January interview with the English-language TV station Russia Today, Dotcom spoke strongly about online privacy. "My goal is, within the next five years, I want to encrypt half of the Internet," he said. "Just reestablish a balance between a person -- an individual -- and the state."
And true to the advice of Levinson, Mega's servers aren't hosted in the United States. The storage service is currently based in New Zealand. If that country's surveillance policies become too invasive, Dotcom told TorrentFreak, he'll move his company's infrastructure to Iceland.