contract-key1.jpg

Virtru: Making Encryption Easy and Defending Privacy Rights

I am very excited to be involved in Virtru, a new company that is going to revolutionize privacy and security on the Internet.

What makes Virtru unique is that its services are for everyone. Until now, even basic privacy protection (like secure email) has been something that requires considerable computer skills, and some real trade-offs in functionality and convenience.

Even though my career has been privacy, I’ve been just like everyone else – I’ve been hoping for the best. I’ve used web-based email, file services, and other easy “cloud” applications without encrypting my data. I know the threats to privacy are real, but the price in terms of convenience was just too much.

I’m convinced that Virtru is going to change all that. Virtru’s philosophy is simple: make encryption easy without sacrificing security. Virtru has done that by creating a system that doesn’t replace any of the services we’ve all come to know and use (Gmail, for instance), but simply adds privacy functions on top through a simple browser plug-in.  It also has an app for iOS and one coming soon for Android.

Some specific ways that Virtru improves privacy:

  • Virtru protects information (emails, file attachments, shared files) before it leaves your computer and goes into the “cloud” to be shared with the people you want to see it. Virtru uses industry standard encryption to do this.
  • Virtru allows you to prevent email and files from being mistakenly shared or forwarded, and allows you to do other things like set an expiration date, after which your content will no longer be available.  
  • People who have access to your data (companies, hackers, criminals, the government) won’t be able to read your content  without also getting the key – which will not be in the hands of the cloud provider who has your data.

On that last point, I’ve worked hard with Virtru on the question of how to be a responsible privacy leader. What would they do if the government asked for a key? And how will they handle privacy issues generally? They have described their policies in detail in a white paper on government surveillance [add link] and in their privacy policy [add link]. Here’s the bottom line:

  • Virtru will provide a user’s keys to the government if it is presented with a court order, based on the Fourth Amendment’s standard of “probable cause,” that identifies a user or account subject to legitimate surveillance.
  • Virtru will not cooperate with any requests on a so-called “voluntary” basis or other requests that fall short of a court order.
  • Virtru will notify you of any request for the keys to your files, unless it is prohibited from doing so by a court.
  • Virtru will apply these same standards when it comes to requests from the NSA or other intelligence agencies.

Some post-9/11 programs have gone forward secretly that do not require individual court orders based on probable cause. Whether those programs are legal or not, we don’t think that Virtru, as a provider of encryption and data management services, is subject to them. In any event, Virtru will not cooperate with any such program voluntarily, and, if they are ordered to do so, they will fight such orders.

I’m very excited to be part of Virtru. Every day, it seems, new technology and technology services come along that erode privacy. It’s high time everyone had the basic technology tools to reclaim their privacy. Virtru will be a big part of that. 

Bookmark and Share
Tim Edgar

Tim Edgar

Timothy H. Edgar is a visiting fellow at the Institute and adjunct professor of law at the Georgetown University Law Center. Mr. Edgar served under President Obama as the first director of privacy and civil liberties for the White House National Security Staff, focusing on cybersecurity, open government, and data privacy initiatives. From 2006 to 2009, he was the first deputy for civil liberties for the director of national intelligence, reviewing new surveillance authorities, the terrorist watchlist, and other sensitive programs. Prior to his government service, Mr. Edgar was the national security and immigration counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, where he spearheaded the organization's innovative left-right coalition advocating for safeguards for a number of post-9/11 counterterrorism initiatives, including the USA Patriot Act.