A popular private – and secure – alternative to the routinely available email services has offered former President Jimmy Carter an address through which he can communicate without oversight from the National Security Agency.
StartMail said it offered Carter and his family lifetime accounts after he publicly claimed he had taken to writing letters because his electronic communications were being monitored.
“It’s sad that the former leader of the free world avoids emailing because his privacy may be compromised by his own government,” said Katherine Albrecht, a consumer privacy advocate whose expertise contributed to the launch of StartMail.
StartMail communications are protected against surveillance by powerful PGP encryption, which is considered the gold standard, the company says.
While PGP encryption previously was hard to use – relegating it mostly to the technically advanced – the company now puts the powerful privacy tool into everyone’s hands with a one-click option.
It was during a recent interview that Carter disclosed he was using the “old-fashioned” Post Office for communicating.
“As a matter of fact, you know, I have felt that my own communications are probably monitored,” he said on last weekend’s “Meet the Press.”
The subjects of discussion included the massive surveillance programs run by the NSA against American citizens revealed by documents leaker Edward Snowden.
There now are lawsuits and requests for class action status that could make virtually everyone in the nation a plaintiff against Barack Obama and his NSA administrators.
Asked about the surveillance operations, Carter, president from 1977 to 1981, said the spying “has been extremely liberalized, and I, think, abused by our own intelligence agencies.”
Albrecht said law-abiding citizens “have a right to privacy and should be able to keep their email safe from hackers, snoops, and government agents.”
“That’s why we created StartMail with privacy in mind,” she said.
The service was launched by the same people who developed private search engines StartPage.com and Ixquick.com. It has experienced a surge of demand since Snowden’s revelations about government spy programs.
The email service is in a testing phase before rollout, which is expected to happen this year, by invitation only.
StartMail, as well as StartPage and Ixquick, “makes state-of-the-art privacy protection easy and available to everyone,” the company says.
It is based in Europe, where consumer privacy is better protected by law,.
More than 50,000 people have signed up to beta test the service.
Officials said StartPage and sister Ixquick combined are the largest anonymous search engines, and the only search engines that are third-party certified.
Albrecht earlier told WND that in 2013 alone, the privacy-emphasizing pages doubled their traffic, turning in more than 1.25 billion searches.
“It may have taken Internet users a while to make sense of Snowden’s revelations and figure out what to do about them,” she observed, “but now they are clearly responding in huge numbers.”
Albrecht said it appears consumers are upset that mainstream search engines spy on them to create personal profiles and serve up targeted advertising. On top of that, she added, “Consumers are rightfully outraged that governments are eavesdropping on those services and commandeering access to those databases.”
StartPage and Ixquick, besides being based in Europe, also don’t collect any data, so they cannot turn anything over to authorities, according to Albrecht.
StartPage and Ixquick services are provided free to consumers but offer tremendous value, which Albrecht says is why they are now the largest anonymous search engines in the world. StartPage and Ixquick are the only search engines to offer a free proxy service, and their privacy promises are audited and certified by an independent organization, Europrise.
She said consumers also turn to the search engines because they provide better, more pure results than the big names. StartPage.com serves up Google results, but doesn’t manipulate the results based on who’s doing the searching, because users are completely anonymous. Ixquick delivers results from multiple search engines and displays them according to relevance and quality as well.
Officials for StartPage.com and its sister search engine, Ixquick.com, said their clients do not have their Web movements monitored, like those who use Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, YouTube, PalTalk, AOL and Skype.
WND reported in 2010 when Albrecht, a Harvard-trained privacy expert, warned: “It would blow people’s minds if they knew how much information the big search engines have on the American public. In fact, their dossiers are so detailed they would probably be the envy of the KGB.”
It happens every day, Albrecht explained. When an unfamiliar topic crosses people’s minds, they often go straight to Google, Yahoo or Bing and enter key terms into those search engines. Every day, more than a billion searches for information are performed on Google alone.
“If you get a rash between your toes, you go into Google,” she said. “If you have a miscarriage, you go into Google. If you are having marital difficulties, you look for a counselor on Google. If you lose your job, you look for unemployment benefit information on Google.”
Albrecht said Americans unwittingly share their most private thoughts with search engines, serving up snippets of deeply personal information about their lives, habits, troubles, health concerns, preferences and political leanings.
“We’re essentially telling them our entire life stories – stuff you wouldn’t even tell your mother – because you are in a private room with a computer,” she said. “We tend to think of that as a completely private circumstance. But the reality is that they make a record of every single search you do.”
The search engines have sophisticated algorithms to mine data from searches and create detailed profiles about Americans. She said those profiles are stored on servers and may fall into the wrong hands – for example, the federal government’s detailed files on unwitting U.S. citizens.
In a December 2009 interview with CNBC, Google CEO Eric Schmidt admitted that search engines may turn over citizens’ private information to the government.
“If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” Schmidt said. “But if you really need that kind of privacy, the reality is that search engines, including Google, do retain this information for some time. And it’s important, for example, that we are all subject to the United States Patriot Act. It is possible that information could be made available to the authorities.”