I have known Jon Callas for many years, tracking back to when he was part of the PGP Corporation and bringing encrypted email to the world. He has been a long-time security researcher who has been part of the launch teams at Silent Circle and Blackphone. Recently he has moved from Apple to the ACLU, where he is a technical fellow in the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.
I spoke to him last week and caught up with what he is working on now, and thought you might be interested. His job now is to help the mostly legal team at ACLU to understand the technical issues, especially from someone who has been deeply steeped in them over the years. “Technology is such a part of the modern world that we need more people to understand it,” he said. One of his focus areas is the recent changes in Australian encryption laws. He is still trying to figure out the implications, and so far he views this bill as more guiding government assistance than actual intervention. The bill also raises more questions than it answers, such as how does a developer secretly insert code into a system that has tracking or build version controls? He is also watching the revelations around the Facebook document trove that was released this week by British lawmakers. (Here is the backstory and ProtonMail’s comments on the law is here.) “Clearly, there are contradictions between what Facebook management said they were and weren’t doing and what was mentioned in these documents,” he said. When I asked him what he what do if he were CTO of Facebook, he just laughed.
One other area of interest is how to understand how the government is acting to curb freedom of speech, and what is going on at our borders. “The government quite reasonably says that they can look inside your suitcase when you cross into our country. That I understand, but shouldn’t your electronic devices be treated differently from what else is in your suitcase? There are many answers here, and we need to have legal and policy discussions and understand exactly what problems we are trying to solve.”
We also spoke about the recent actions by Google employees protesting their Chinese-specific search engine. “I find it encouraging that tech people are looking at the consequences of what they do and where this technology is going to be used and what it all means,” he said. Now, “we are more in tune with privacy concerns. People are thinking about the ethics and consequences of what they are doing. They want to have a part in these discussions. That is what a free society should do.”