I’ve always been a big fan of Mozilla’s email client, Thunderbird, even when it was unfashionable to admit it. Because, for the last few years, the view amongst those “in the know” was that email was dead, that nobody used it, and that even if they did, Web-based systems like Gmail meant that Thunderbird and its ilk were dinosaurs.
And then along came <a href=http://blogs.computerworlduk.com/open-enterprise/2013/11/resisting-surveillance-on-a-unprecedented-scale-i/index.htm>Mr Snowden.
Suddenly, using cloud-based email services didn’t seem so clever, and the idea of having an email client under your control, looked rather wise. It is, after all, one of the simplest ways to use PGP for email – but I obviously need to qualify that by admitting that it’s only simpler than other methods, and not by any means simple in itself.
Of course, people will rightly point out that this still leaves your metadata exposed as the email traverses the Net (although clever extensions like <a href=https://addons.mozilla.org/de/thunderbird/addon/torbirdy/>TorBirdy at least make that a little harder.) And that’s why we need a burst of creativity centred on email that addresses this and other security-related issues – like making PGP truly easy to use. There are several projects attempting to do that, such as the <a href=http://darkmail.info/>Dark Mail Alliance, and <a href=http://www.mailpile.is/>Mailpile. That’s good, especially as the results will be open source. But as a fan of Thunderbird, I’d really like to see that project take off in a way that hasn’t seemed possible before.
This was something else I discussed with Brendan Eich when I met up with him the other week. I hope I at least planted the seed of an idea with him, and that any readers out there who agree with me that Thunderbird could turn into a vital part of how we respond to the appalling abuse of our privacy and security by the UK and US governments, will also start dropping heavy hints to that effect.