The Dark Mail Alliance Wants to Reinvent Email as We Know ItS

In the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks, we've seen at least two encrypted email services close shop in the face of government scrutiny. They're not giving up on the mission, however. In fact, these freedom fighters now say they're coming back twice as strong and twice as committed to shutting out the NSA.

The two shuttered email services are, of course, Lavabit and Silent Circle—the former being Snowden's own choice for encrypted email. In August, Lavabit slammed its doors after being bullied by the Feds, and Silent Circle followed suit and discontinued its email service the next day. The founders of each service have since teamed up to leverage their technology for the greater good. Not only are they working on a new, super-secure encrypted email service, they're planning to reinvent email as we know it.

The new project is called the Dark Mail Alliance, and anybody's welcome to join. The service, due out early next year, will combine top-of-the-line encryption technology (based on Silent Circle's SCIMP instant messaging protocol) with offshore servers in Canada and Switzerland—á la Kolab, currently the best secure email service—that the NSA can't touch. "Any agencies that come down to us have no way to force us to comply [with surveillance] because architecturally it's impossible," says Mike Janke, the CEO of Silent Circle. "That's the beauty of it."

The key innovation of the Dark Mail Alliance is applying automatic peer-to-peer encryption not only to a message's contents but to all of the related metadata, such as "To" and "From" fields and subject lines. (Remember it's email metadata that the NSA's been scooping up and storing for up to a year.) Existing email encryption services simply don't go that far. PGP, for instance, can encrypt the body of an email but not the metadata.

However, to get full protection, messages will need to be sent between Dark Mail accounts. Messages sent to a Dark Mail account from, say, a Gmail account will arrive just fine. It just won't be encrypted.

Of course, all this sounds really great in theory. There's just one problem: the name. As BuzzFeed's John Herrman put it, calling an encrypted email service the "Dark Mail Alliance" is basically like creating a "HUGE FLASHING BULLSEYE for [the] NSA." [Slate]

Image via Shutterstock / Pavel Ignatov