After PRISM, France’s Laurent Chemla Offers Secure Email

laurent-chemla caliop

Could French activist Laurent Chemla’s CALIOP fill the gap left by Lavabit and Silent Circle?

French Internet pioneer Laurent Chemla has promised to provide secure email, following the PRISM revelations of Edward Snowden, which exposed surveillance by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and have caused the closure of several Internet services. But who is he, and should be trust him? 

In 1999, Laurent Chemla co-created, one of the biggest French Internet registrars. He is also a militant proponent of web freedoms – and in 1986 was the first French person to be confvicted of hacking… on the country’s Minitel system. Now, he’s decided to revive a dormant project for secure messaging, called CALIOP.

He spoke exclusively about his objectives with CALIOP, to our colleagues on

We can democratise cryptography

email-iconWhy revive CALIOP now? 
This is not a reaction to the NSA PRISM scandal but the closure of many secure messaging services [such as Lavabit and Secret Circle] and the idea that we could not trust emails. Rather than give up such a universal tool as email, I prefer to try to find solutions. CALIOP was launched in the early 2000s because of violations of ISPs’ freedoms. I felt it was appropriate to revive the project.

You have announced tools and a platform. But how will CALIOP work? Where data will be stored?
For now, I have appealed for suggestions. I have received dozens of online contributions, but I hope to get thousands of ideas within the CALIOP project. From my point of view, we could already democratise cryptography, having different levels of privacy for email. We could cut messages into several pieces, and store these pieces of encrypted email in different data centres. I have already discussed the idea with Stefan Ramoin, the current boss of, and the data could be safely stored on European soil.

Could you imagine a commercial variant of this service for companies, which are most vulnerable to piracy of their communications?
Why not? It suggests the model adopted by Valentine Lacambre‘s, the first French website host. [Lacambre, co-founder of, also set up the 3615 Internet gateway from Minitel]. One could imagine something similar for CALIOP, for example with a white label version for companies that can fund the free service for users.

If successful, your tool will be used by criminal networks that could discredit it. What official reaction do you expect?
You could bring the same charge against France Telecom or LaPoste! But if justice requires me to provide data that I have, I will answer to justice. If this is the state or the police, I simply remind them that French law guarantees confidentiality of communications. This is what we did with Gandi and I have not changed my mindset.

Several secure services have recently closed (Lavabit, SilentMail) under pressure from the US authorities. Are you worried you will be in their sights?
That would give us great publicity! But no, I do not think our service would suffer the wrath of the US Secret Service. And if it does one day, you can always easily move to warmer climes.

Europe and France seem to be satisfied with the current Internet governance. Do you think that an overhaul of the network is desirable, at a  technological or political level? 
The Internet has become the network of networks and “rebuilding” seems to me to be totally illusory. The root servers are doing their job and if ICANN was biased, it would only take a few days to set up a system of alternative names areas. IP addresses are also safe. CALIOP can help create secure messaging.

When we started the fight for freedom of expression on the Internet in the 90s, we were only a handful of hackers. Today, these issues have become relevant to millions of people. Awareness is widespread, we can’t go back.

This article appeared on It has been translated by Peter Judge. 

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