Back in the old days before the NSA, it was only nosy telephone operators who truly knew what people were saying to one another “privately.” Now it seems that, although the government provides what hacker Adrian Lamo wryly refers to as a “free, cloud-based back up service for an ungrateful nation,” some people don’t recall opting in to that, and would like to take back what privacy they had before the days of warrantless wiretapping. Some of them would even like to build those protections for others, and make them available at a reasonable cost.
Meet two of them.
We’re basically a communications provider that encrypts the data between our networks. Unlike larger companies with vested interest in consumer data, we just want to connect people with each other with a real sense of promoting freedom of speech. Teli Tuketu
Teli Tuketu and Jered Morgan are the creators of SuchCalls, a new digital phone/messaging service that accepts payment only in cryptocurrency, and whose entire roster of communications services are 100% encrypted.
“SuchCalls was an idea I had one day after I first got into DogeCoin,” co-creator Tuketu told us via email. “I already worked at a telephone company, so it made sense to go that route. I did not do anything with it at the time, but then another engineer at the office started to tell me his idea of something similar but using a different coin. So that kind of lit the fire beneath my ass to make something of it and out poured my passion in putting the people and pieces together. We have some really talented people in our group, that I am just so proud to be a part of it.”
SuchCalls is not a phone app per se; you cannot use it instead of any other phone service. Instead, you add it to an existing service that you have (you can use: Counterpath’s Bria softphone, Acrobitz Softphone, Cloudsoftphone, and Asterisk PBX, as well as anything that supports registrations, TLS signalling and SRTP media) and it forms a sort of secure room within the app. What you do within SuchCalls, what goes on in the room, is encrypted before it leaves, whether it’s a text message or a voice call, so by the time your regular phone app, the nosy operator, and the NSA get to it, it’s already protected. Without your encryption key, they cannot decipher (literally) the contents of the messages you have sent, although they can still determine the message’s destination and duration (what’s known as “metadata”).
Ernestine will be very annoyed.
“Right now, you sign up, verify email address, sign in, choose a telephone number then download the client (or use your own).” We asked about price, having been provided with a free Media VIP account with the Doge equivalent of five dollars in it, for purposes of this article. To be honest, I use the texting service there more than any other texting service. Tuketu told us, “User to user calls are free and SMS is also free. It’s only calls outside of the network to which charges apply. We’re not Google, we can’t pay for all your calls! But we also don’t want your mobile telephone number like they do!”
When you sign up SuchCalls only gets your IP address and your email address. And if they get a subpoena, there’s not much they can hand over if they wanted to. “If it were a lawful request and specifically asked for, hypothetically we would pass email address, CDR for calls outside the network from their DID assigned*, and the IP address – We do not retain internal records for user to user communications.” Keeping user-to-user communications free of cost means they don’t have to track it, so they don’t collect the data in the first place. As for the technical details, he explained, “Currently, all calls use TLS for signalling and SRTP for the media. We are experimenting with other encryption methods at this time.” It also supports TTY, the telephony device for the deaf.
We have the passion to be over the edge of innovation to make that next curve jump. Are we trying to be Google or Facebook type companies? No. We do however in the style of usefulness, want to be a part of a generation that really changed the way the world communicates with a better understanding and respect for themselves and own privacy as individuals. .
“We are in the process of relaunching with an easier signup process, stronger encryption, and a cellular service that is paid for via DogeCoin.” Most existing users, he said, are calling within the network (ie for free to other members) and using the bridging function, a throwback to the old phone phreaker days when, if you had special tones or numbers, you could create an on-the-fly teleconference. On SuchCalls, you type in 2663 (CONF) and any set of numbers you like, and you’ve created a new teleconference room that’s completely encrypted because it’s within SuchCalls. Any network user can join by dialing in to that number, so it could just be you and the hottie with whom you are carrying on a torrid affair OR it could be you, the hottie, and your spouse, depending on how many people know about the number.
Phone phreakers always did love the entropy inherent in freedom.
Speaking of which, the service is sprinkled with Easter Eggs. Some are reserved for the “1337” elite and some are available to all, but you have to use the service and dig around to find them. He gave us one freebie to share “Whistle 2600HZ next time you’re on a call.”
There are big plans for the future: Trunking, ZRTP encryption is coming, and you’ll be able to make your Hold music anything you want. Also what is called “cellular BYOD” the ability to “bring your own device” ie use any piece of hardware on any network for SuchCalls.
As to the question of who really needs a service to encrypt their every banal text and call, he’s adamant. We need this and anyone like us. We desire privacy, we desire the [ability] to speak our mind without fear of black helicopters or being put on some list. We’re really not that paranoid, but I think it’s funny to make something to poke at the branch of the Status Quo, a status quo that violates people’s rights in astronomical proportions. It’s rude really. Even a child knows not to snoop on others. But ultimately, we made it for ourselves because we could. Plus why not support the doge community? Those are some of the most amazing people on the internet I have come in contact with.
We don’t really care how big it gets. We build to support it, but that is not what we focus on. We focus on creating something that is useful, playful and can bring people together in hopes to drive crowd innovation in any area of our lives. It was created in a way where it auto-scales. At current capacity we can process up to 30000 or so concurrent calls.”
As for the possibility of negative consequences, he’s not shy about acting when they arise. “If we see abuse, we deal with it accordingly. We’re not stupid -No Dom Tuffy’s here. We are playful at heart ourselves, so only something really serious is going to piss us off. Don’t be a noobface.”
Now that we’ve covered who it’s for, what it does, how it works, what it costs, and where you can get it, it’s time to talk about why it exists in the first place. I asked Tuketu what inspired him to take on this project. Sure, everyone’s concerned about data snooping by Big Government, Big Corporations, and Big Hackers, but not everyone goes to the trouble of creating an encryption add-on for VOIP and SMS and making it available basically for free.
He told us a story.
I used to be a protester. I was a Ron Paul supporter, which lead me to Thomas Jefferson, that in turn lead me to Henry Thoreau. But I would get so angry with events I would see play out in the world. I was a really bothered person internally.
What I see happening in our world troubles me.
I would see a group form that I would think held my cause, then the group would be hijacked. A good example: the Tea Party from back in 2007 is not the same Tea Party in 2011. The people were about self-ownership, taking responsibility for themselves and their lives, understanding what charity really is, caring, the non-aggression principal, working with others to create solutions… switch forward to 2011 and it was a completely different scene. The people there were ALL about the president’s birth certificate, poked fun at my peace signs, supported WAR WAR WAR, hated LGBT communities. Just a completely different scene.
I’ve come to the understanding that everything gets hijacked and the realization of that was a double-edged sword to me.
I don’t think standing in the streets with signs is going to change anything like I once had thought. I have respect for the people that do it, but all I see from it is a focus point for hate and an excuse for the bad police officers to use their new crowd control toys. I don’t want to promote hate, I’d rather try to create new ideas and take each day one at a time while planning for the future.
Life is a gift, it’s not guaranteed, not all the turtles make it, but some do. I saw SuchCalls as an opportunity to exercise some of my frustrations into something positive, because I AM about the non-aggression principle and peace.
Today we have a tool at our disposal that was never available in previous times. We have communication with the world. The people on this planet have communication with the whole world.
I’m an optimist, but I believe to be successful in anything, you kind of need to be one.
Some have told me I have a ‘dangerous faith in my fellow man’ and to this I respond: It is not my fellow man (or woman) that I have faith in; It’s the transformation that takes place inside the individual after realizing their very own freedom to live their life and that this same principle applies to everyone.
It’s the transformation that I have faith in.
On that rather profound note, I’ll leave you with a video Tuketu included as a footer in his email, Cat Stevens performing Peace Train. Definitely not what you’d expect from a member of today’s Tea Party. Then again, hackers and phreaks have never liked being easily categorized. Just when you think you’ve got them in a box, you realize they took that cardboard and turned it into a geodesic dome or some damn thing.