An ISP Centered on Consumer Privacy: sign me up!

News is making rounds on the internet about an ISP that is dedicated to consumer privacy called the Calyx Institute.  (and it’s aiming to be a 501(c)(3) non-profit, which is very cool)  In their very own words:

Imagine… a telecommunications company that prioritizes privacy over profits. The Calyx Institute is poised to turn this prospect into reality by launching the first not-just-for-profit telephone and Internet service as part of its research into privacy technology. Calyx’s charter directs it to use all legal and technical resources available to protect the rights of its constituents and customers.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds extremely interesting.  Why?  Because it seems like more and more, privacy and data ownership/usage is the big thing for internet, media, and telecom.  Google has vast treasure troves of data.  Now of course, so does each ISP–and its even more personal than Google’s treasure trove because an ISP can actually log a lot more activity.  The thought that an ISP could not only use it for marketing (fair game for most privacy policies), but for monitoring and providing it to third parties like the government…  or other governments?  That can make a lot of people suffer from mild paranoia.

So as you can tell, this is very interesting and I am excited.  I note that two of the board members have involvement with the Tor project, something that used to be great for circumventing the Great Firewall.  And here are some excerpts from CNet about the organization and its founder, which I think very fascinating:

Nicholas Merrill is planning to revolutionize online privacy with a concept as simple as it is ingenious: a telecommunications provider designed from its inception to shield its customers from surveillance.

Merrill, 39, who previously ran a New York-based Internet provider, told CNET that he’s raising funds to launch a national “non-profit telecommunications provider dedicated to privacy, using ubiquitous encryption” that will sell mobile phone service and, for as little as $20 a month, Internet connectivity.

The ISP would not merely employ every technological means at its disposal, including encryption and limited logging, to protect its customers. It would also — and in practice this is likely more important — challenge government surveillance demands of dubious legality or constitutionality.

Merrill is in the unique position of being the first ISP exec to fight back against the Patriot Act’s expanded police powers — and win.

That prospect doesn’t exactly please the FBI. Last year, CNET was the first to report that the FBI warned Congress about what it dubbed the “Going Dark” problem, meaning when police are thwarted in conducting court-authorized eavesdropping because Internet companies aren’t required to build in back doors in advance, or because the technology doesn’t permit it. FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni said at the time that agents armed with wiretap orders need to be able to conduct surveillance of “Web-based e-mail, social networking sites, and peer-to-peer communications technology.”

But until Congress changes the law, a privacy-first ISP like Calyx will remain perfectly legal.

I’d be tempted to sign up for mobile service once they actually go live.


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