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Privacy Is Our Polic— Government Style

August 18, 2013

Look, I have to admit that I have a very low opinion of how secure or protected any free service is on the internet.  If I want to post any random crap on a site that hundreds of “friends” can read, and it’s free, I’m sure there’s a catch.  Same for e-mail.  I’ve had the same free inbox on a service for nearly 20 years.  I don’t expect a lot out of it, other than a place to direct SPAM.

That said, when the government coerces someone, I take notice.  Reason Magazine highlighted this NBC report (also at Reason).

Lavabit [LLC, a secure e-mail service] said [it] was barred by federal law from elaborating on the order or any of his communications with federal prosecutors. But a source familiar with the matter told NBC News that James Trump, a senior litigation counsel in the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, Va., sent an email to Levison’s lawyer last Thursday – the day Lavabit was shuttered — stating that Levison may have “violated the court order,” a statement that was interpreted as a possible threat to charge Levison with contempt of court.

Essentially, secure e-mail services are being threatened by government legal action, and many of the services would rather shut down than provide info.  I understand the security implications of this, and I also have a good idea on how hard it would be for the government to break a specific e-mail if necessary (my supposition: not all that hard, really, not if they really wanted the info).

What gets me here is that the government is impinging on free enterprise because it’s concerned for some fairly nebulous safety issues.  Encrypted services can be compromised in a variety of ways, so a ham-handed effort to just require a service to hand over info with no warrant… well that’s dumb.  In the least, it gets a popular internet site on your case.

Technology vs. security is going to become a bigger issue as things move forward, and I seriously doubt that legal threats will slow the tide at all.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 19, 2013 6:28 am

    I have wondered for years about the trust worthiness of internet email, anonymous proxies, etc. In light of the patriot act and allegations about warrantless investigations I’m starting to think that putting corporate assets in the cloud dramatically increases the potential for fourth and fifth amendment violations.

    It makes me wonder if the government of the world have worked to help push things into the cloud, thereby increasing the ease they can access it without the end user knowing it has been accessed.

    • August 20, 2013 10:47 pm

      You give way too much credit to the governments, in my opinion. Sinister is the opposite of incompetent, and large bodies tend to the latter much more easily.

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