Oh Hushmail, you have failed us.
Here is what I naively would have expected to happen, when the feds showed up at Hushmail with a Canadian court order:
Feds: we need you to decrypt and turn over all email from the account of Mr. X — he is a very bad person.
Hushmail: gosh, we’d sure like to, but the whole point of our business model is that even if we wanted to, we couldn’t. Sorry ’bout that. If you want a whole bunch of encrypted mumbo jumbo to go play with, we’re more than happy to oblige, got a flash drive?
Here is my reconstruction of what seems to have happened:
Feds: we need you to turn over all email from the account of Mr. X — he is a very bad person.
Hushmail: well lemme look here… ooh! Whaddaya know! It just so happens that Mr. Bad Person X was stupid enough to not choose our uber-paranoid service, he instead chose the service where he trusts our servers for one single split second… What an eediot!
Feds: (rubbing hands together) excellent…. we’ll go get the flash drive…
Yeah, I get that Hushmail (the company) was in a bad spot, and I’m sure that this was not a joyous experience for them. I also understand that Hushmail (the service) is still a better choice than nothing at all, at least as long as you can keep yourself from being legally classified as a “bad person”.
I know that Hushmail has always gone out of its way to point out the extra risk attached to their more convenient service. I also understand that Mr. X probably really was a bad person.
None of that makes me feel better. My problem is not with the fact that Hushmail rolled over, it’s that they could roll over. Hushmail theoretically avoids liability and evokes trust as a secure service because the technology ensures that betrayal is not even a possible choice. Perhaps that trust should still be accorded to Hushmail for the more secure of their email services. Perhaps it’s true that there is no loophole for that second service. But if there is, we know that Hushmail could be compelled to use it. These days, anyone can be compelled.
I think the government should actually go one step further. I think they should take their inspiration from the North Dakota law enforcement team that invited 40 individuals with outstanding police warrants to an Alice Cooper pre-concert party so that the cops could arrest the criminals in a convenient and leisurely manner. The Powers that Be could create their own stooge “secure” service, then very comfortably sit back and let the privacy zealots come to them. It would be much more convenient and reliable than all this horrible mess with court orders, constitutional rights, citizenship, and so on. But wait, maybe they are way ahead of me? Perhaps this is what Dual_EC_DRBG is for… ?