NSA’s PRISM Puts Privacy Startup Silent Circle Into Orbit

Posted by: Paul Roberts   July 2, 2013 16:49Comments Off

Government surveillance has been getting a lot of attention in recent weeks, with the leak of classified information about spying by the National Security Agency using information provided by U.S. telecommunications and Internet firms including Verizon, Facebook, Google and Apple.

The Security Ledger podcast

The stories have revealed the very different legal standards that govern electronic communications and more traditional communications such as phone and postal mail. They have also put many otherwise lawful Internet users in search of technology that will keep their private conversations and thoughts well…private. That, in turn, has sparked concern in the government that civilian use of encryption will hamper lawful interception of communications. Wired.com reported last week that, for the first time, encryption thwarted government surveillance under court-approved wiretaps. That report,  from the U.S. Administrative Office of the Courts (AO), said encryption was reported for 15 wiretaps in 2012, compared with just 7 wiretaps conducted during previous years. In four of the encrypted wiretaps, officials were unable to decipher the plain text of the messages, the AO found–  the first time that jurisdictions have reported that encryption prevented officials from obtaining the plain text of the communications since the AO began collecting encryption data in 2001.

Encryption was still far more the exception than the rule. Those 15 encrypted communications were out of more than 3,300 authorized wiretaps by state and federal judges last year. But, if Mike Janke, the CEO of Silent Circle has it his way, encryption may be come the rule, rather than the exception.

CEO Mike Janke, Silent Circle

Janke says that government and law enforcement claims of “going dark” because of encrypted communications are overblown. “They have so many tools at their disposal,” he said. (Photo courtesy of Silent Circle.)

Silent Circle makes strong, but seamless, easy-to-use encryption products that protect the communications of mobile phones and other communications devices including mobile phones, instant messaging and video conferencing from unwanted intrusion. In the wake of revelations about the National Security Agency’s PRISM surveillance program, that’s an offering that sounds pretty good to a lot of people. Janke told The Security Ledger that downloads of his company’s product jumped 400 % per day in the five days after the PRISM program was brought to light by The Guardian and The Washington Post.

Interestingly enough, however, the U.S. government, military and intelligence communities are among Silent Circle’s biggest customers. In our Interview Janki talked about the complex relationship Silent Circle has with the government, which relies on the company’s technology, but is also suspicious of its ability to protect “bad guys.”

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