The idea is to “democratize encryption” by making it available to the non-tech-savvy with the push of a button. Will this be used for good or evil? Slate‘s Ryan Gallagher explains:
The startup tech firm Silent Circle’s groundbreaking encrypted data transfer app will enable people to send files securely from a smartphone or tablet at the touch of a button—photographs, videos, spreadsheets, you name it—sent scrambled from one person to another in a matter of seconds.
The technology uses a sophisticated peer-to-peer encryption technique that allows users to send encrypted files of up to 60 megabytes through a “Silent Text” app. The sender of the file can set it on a timer so that it will automatically “burn”—deleting it from both devices after a set period of, say, seven minutes. It’s a game-changer that will almost certainly make life easier and safer for journalists, dissidents, diplomats, and companies trying to evade surveillance.
When a user sends a picture or document, it will be encrypted, digitally “shredded” into thousands of pieces, and temporarily stored in a “Secure Cloud Broker” until it is transmitted to the recipient. Silent Circle, which charges $20 a month for its service, has no way of accessing the encrypted files because the “key” to open them is held on the users’ devices and then deleted after it has been used to open the files.
But while Silent Circle’s revolutionary technology will assist many people in difficult environments, maybe even saying lives, there’s also a dark side. Law enforcement agencies will almost certainly be seriously concerned about how it could be used to aid criminals. The FBI, for instance, wants all communications providers to build in backdoors so it can secretly spy on suspects. Silent Circle is pushing hard in the exact opposite direction—it has an explicit policy that it cannot and will not comply with law enforcement eavesdropping requests.
The new Silent Circle is due to launch later this week, hitting Apple’s App Store by Feb. 8. Expect controversy to follow.