BitTorrent has revealed BitTorrent Chat, its secure take on instant messaging using the peer-to-peer technologies that made it notorious for file-sharing so as to escape the eyes of the NSA. Described as “a pre-Alpha experiment in server-less messaging” the new chat client promises to shuttle conversations across an encrypted, peer-to-peer network rather than routing them through a central server, as iMessage, Skype, and other services currently do.
“This year alone, more than 6 million people have been impacted by data breaches” the BitTorrent team says of the new software. “The right to own your own conversations online: it’s not a given. It should be.”
In order to address that, the company has torn up some of the established thinking on building large-scale IM systems. As well as pushing messages through P2P channels, there’s also the commitment that they’ll never be stored on a server.
That may well go a long way to hiding messages sent over BitTorrent Chat from the prying eyes of law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, such as the NSA. Although Apple, among others, have been quick to point out that they encrypt their messaging data, they’re still obligated to hand over information stored on their servers if served with the appropriate court order.
For BitTorrent Chat, however, if there’s nothing on a server to be accessed then there’s nothing to be handed over. That, at least, appears to be the approach the company is taking, though it’s unclear how it sits with clandestine data gathering systems such as the US government’s undersea cable taps.
Those taps – and other data sources – are allegedly being used by the NSA’s Marina program, which gathers metadata on millions of individuals and allows the NSA to build in-depth reconstructions of past online activity covering up to twelve months, it’s said. One of the ways the NSA can keep hold of data from US citizens is if it is encrypted, and thus investigators are unclear on whether it is relevant to an ongoing case or crime.