- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Revelations that the National Security Agency is gathering vast amounts of data about the phone and Internet communications of hundreds of millions of people has been good news for at least one group of entrepreneurs — those selling online encryption services that promise to shield email, text and voice from surveillance.

Seecrypt and Silent Circle, two firms that offer encryption services for individuals and businesses, say they have seen a wave of interest in their products since last week’s revelations about the NSA’s collection of electronic data from Internet and phone companies.

“There’s been a massive spike in demand [for encryption] on the back of this story,” said Harvey Boulter, CEO of Seecrypt, a South Africa-based firm that offers its product initially as a free download. Subscribers pay $3 a month after the first three months.

Mr. Boulter says U.S. registrations have doubled this week, adding that the interest is not just in the United States.

Mike Janke, CEO of Silent Circle, which he calls “an offshore company with a U.S. operation,” says its sales are up 415 percent over the past four days.

He said the company has “had so many requests from Third World countries and smaller companies [abroad] especially in Asia” that it is offering a special deal on subscriptions — $120 for a year. (The regular price is $20 a month.)

“These government [communications] intercept capabilities exist all over the world,” Mr. Boulter said. “One of the sides of the privacy debate we don’t hear much about is protecting U.S. citizens and companies, especially smaller companies, from surveillance” by foreign governments.

“What’s the government doing to protect them? Nothing,” he said of small companies. “That’s the future value of the country.”

Mr. Boulter said Seecrypt is based in South Africa to be beyond the reach of U.S. courts and the surveillance orders they authorize.

“Our system is designed without a ‘legal intercept’ capacity,” he said, referring to a mechanism required of most telephone providers in the U.S. so law enforcement and intelligence agencies can conduct court-ordered wiretaps.

But even firms with a presence in the United States, such as Silent Circle, say their services can shield users, even from U.S.-authorized interception.

“We could put our servers in the NSA’s broom cupboard and they still wouldn’t be able to listen in,” Mr. Janke said.

The key is encryption, which scrambles the data traveling between the two devices exchanging phone calls, emails or text messages.

Both services use “peer-to-peer” encryption, in which the keys to scramble the data are generated by the user’s device, not the company’s servers — meaning the company doesn’t have a copy.

Mr. Janke acknowledged Silent Circle is subject to U.S. law and could be served the same order for telephone “metadata” — the numbers called, when and for how long — that phone companies like Verizon are subject to. But he said the company’s system is designed so that none of that data is stored.

“We call it a minimal data retention architecture,” he said. “It means it doesn’t matter who tries to get access to our records.

“The only information we have about [users] is a user name and the phone number. That’s it,” he added.

He said the firm doesn’t even keep credit card records because it contracts with a third party to receive payments without any accompanying card data.

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