TorMail is, at last report, a very popular Web-based mail service that a lot of people turned to thanks to its anonymity and its ease of use. But the anonymity may well be proving to be less than billed, as a recent FBI investigation brought the contents of TorMail's various inboxes into its collective hands. What's more, current reports suggest that the FBI isn't letting any grass grow under its new acquisition, either, and is putting the contents to work in several new investigations.
The FBI laid hands on TorMail as part of an investigation against a hosting company said to be hosting child porn, and while that investigation was going on, the FBI also got the entire e-mail database of TorMail. It was seized from Freedom Hosting, and the name recently came up again not over a child porn case, but rather over an issue of selling counterfeit credit cards online. The FBI began here by carrying out a search warrant against a Gmail account, then discovering that the orders for the cards in question were sent to a TorMail account. Newly armed with a search warrant for the TorMail account in question, the FBI then accessed said account, which it reportedly already had a copy of.
The tactic is being called a “big data” style approach, essentially working in much the same way as the NSA does: collect everything in sight, no matter how trivial, and then hold onto it until a specific need arises or a specific authority is provided and then access the currently on-hand copy. As yet, there is no evidence to suggest that the FBI may have put the cart before the horse, so to speak—it hasn't gone on fishing expeditions through its vast evidence stockpile without getting a warrant first—but TorMail's servers are no longer the safe haven that may once have been thought.
Given that TorMail was widely regarded as the service of choice for Darknet users—that network of anonymous or otherwise encrypted websites—the TorMail cache the FBI holds is likely now extremely valuable to any future investigations. However, TorMail was reportedly also widely put into use by human rights groups, journalists, and similar matters looking to preserve privacy for dealing with issues that may generate reprisals from others down the line.
Indeed, some might be concerned of issues of privacy on this one. While there's nothing to suggest that the FBI has done anything untoward, it's also fairly easy to believe—particularly these days—that untoward things have occurred, but no one's talking about these things. The mail in question is currently in the FBI's offices, and telling what the FBI is doing in its own offices is no small issue. For all most anyone knows, the FBI could have gone through every message ever, though again, there's nothing to suggest as yet that that is the case. It certain is possible for that to happen, though, and that's what has many concerned.
With approval ratings on the decline throughout much of government, and distrust seemingly rising to match, it's not surprising that concerns over privacy would come of the reports that the FBI was holding a copy of a substantial portion of an e-mail database, especially one that was supposed to be secure from hacking attempts. Privacy wonks and security buffs, though, will likely continue to debate this issue for some time to come.
Edited by Ryan Sartor