Kolab creates a privacy refugee camp in Switzerland

It’s fortunate, and unfortunate at the same time, that people from ‘Land of the Free’ have to ‘cross’ Atlantic to get the privacy and freedom that should have been their right.

The disclosure by NSA contractor Edward Snowden has exposed the ‘out-of-control’ surveillance system of the US and the UK. The more stories we are getting from Guardian and NYTimes, the more people are losing trust in the proprietary solutions offered by the companies which operate from the US and seemingly work closely with the spy agencies.

This is a category of people who don’t yet understand the dangers of breach of privacy, but the more we are moving our lives into the digital world, the more important it is becoming to take control of our communication and privacy from the prying hands of those for whom we are the product.

Then there are those need this privacy, due to the profession they are in or for purely sensible reasons that our privacy should be respected.

As we have seen lately what NSA is doing is more (or maybe its only) about corporate espionage for US based companies than about so-called security and freedom.

So it is becoming increasingly important for people, governments and organizations to take control of their communication. Data is power and if an entity has access to your data, that entity has a lot of power over you.

Abuse of data

Who actually needs secure communication? Everyone. Why should an email provider know the content of an extremely private and sensitive discussion between you and your doctor? There are investigative journalists who may be covering wrongdoings of governments and have sources whose lives could be at risk if the repressive regimes learn about them. There can also be trade negotiations between governments and if one government has access to all of the private communications of the negotiation party they have an unfair advantage; NSA is already doing it.

These are only a few example and there can be more which say that you do nee privacy; that you do need to own you communication.

Claims like “I don’t have anything to hide”, or, “I don’t do anything wrong so I don’t care” are baseless. No one does anything wrong in toilets, does that mean we should have cameras installed in toilets? You have nothing to hide, you don’t do anything wrong when you go shopping for clothes, why do you go behind doors in trial room instead of getting naked in public and trying out new cloths? Privacy has nothing to do with doing something wrong or right. It’s about your private space.

Privacy solutions

There are many companies which offer secure communication solutions to those who do want privacy. In the US there were companies like Lavabit and Silent Circle which offered secure email. However, both companies announced that they were shutting down their mail services as the government wanted access to the data. In the US, you actually don’t have any option – either you comply, or go to jail. They decided to shut down. That created a void.

When the most powerful government of the world is turning hostile towards those who want privacy of community, can there be any place on Earth where you can actually get the ‘right’ to privacy?

The answer is yes! There are companies like Kolab Systems, that offer secure email solutions.

There are technological and political reason which actually make Kolab more trustworthy and superior to Lavabit or Silent Circle. But one may wonder how can Kolab be immune from the far reaching hands of the US government? Why should someone trust Kolab more than Lavabit or Silent Circle?

We talked to Georg C. F. Greve, CEO and Chairman of board of Kolab Systems and discussed all of these points. Before we talk about Kolab’s solutions let’s have a look at its history.

History of Kolab

Greve told me that Kolab was born in Europe. The local government Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (BSI) wanted to have a system which was fully auditable, secure, open source and based on open standards. They did not find anything that they needed available in the market so they announced a tender which was won by 3 companies – Erfrakon, Intevention and Kdab.

These three companies worked together and created Kolab which was based on Free Software technologies and principles. Version 1 was released around 2002 and was installed at BSI. Initially they used it in a heterogeneous environment which was a mix of Windows and GNU/Linux desktops but later they switched to GNU/Linux exclusively – which now runs on their 500+ desktops.

Kolab strengthened the cryptography stack of free software

Open Source is all about collaboration and contribution – more than mere consumption. These three companies worked on a lot of technologies such as GnuPG and the entire S/MIME subset by working closely with g10code, the company of Werner Koch, the author of GnuPG. The work of these companies made essential contributions to the entire cryptography stack in free software. KDE PIM also benefited from their work and a lot of KDE PIM developers are part of the Kolab universe. So the work done was giving more to the free software than it was taking.

But unlike many open source projects suffering from NIH syndrome Kolab does it in the right way. “Everything that we do is upstream, always,” said Greve.