New Web Provider To Defend Against Gov't Snooping

Dennis Faas's picture

A man who wants to launch an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that puts privacy first has raised more than $40,000 in a single day. However, he says it will take at least $1 million before the company can get off the ground.

The project, known as the Calyx Institute, was stimulated by a 2004 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) request for an ISP to provide information about its customers, accompanied by an order not to reveal that such a demand had been made.

Nicholas Merrill was running that ISP, and he was stunned by the request.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Merrill took the matter to court and successfully argued that he should be allowed to reveal when he'd handed over data.

A court agreed that a company's right to inform its customers about such government activities was protected under the First Amendment. (Source:

New Firm Will Make Compliance Impossible

Now Merrill is trying to go one more step: he wants to launch a new ISP designed to protect its customers' privacy.

Simply put, the Calyx Institute will encrypt all communications in a way that prevents even its own staff from decoding messages or other data, even if they want to.

All messages on Calyx servers will be encrypted, and only the customer will be able to decrypt his or her own data. With such a plan in place, any and all government demands for customers' data will be impossible to meet.

Under current law, neither the company nor its staff could be punished for failing to comply with such government orders, because compliance is simply not possible.

If the plan works out, Calyx will offer Internet service starting at $20 per month. There are also plans to offer cellphone services with similarly bulletproof privacy protection.

Million Dollar Budget Required

Merrill says he needs at least $1 million to launch a basic version of the service, and at least $2 million to do the job properly. He's using an online donations site and has already raised $43,819 after just 24 hours. (Source:

Unlike donations raised through other sites, Calyx will receive the money whether or not donations reach the $1 million target. Merrill insists he will attempt to launch the service no matter how much or little funding he receives.

Analysts have warned that although the concept may be technically sound, there's a good chance that officials will attempt to derail the project by flooding Calyx with lawsuits.

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