KPN strikes deal with Silent Circle to offer encrypted phone calls

KPN said it has the exclusive right to offer Silent Circle services in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium

Dutch telecom operator KPN has struck a deal with encrypted communications provider Silent Circle to start offering its Dutch, German and Belgian customers encrypted phone calls and text messages.

The move by KPN, the first telecom provider that is going to resell Silent Circle's services, reflects growing concern about U.S. spying and surveillance following disclosures by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

KPN has obtained exclusive rights to offer the services in its home markets, it said Wednesday. Besides the Netherlands, KPN operates in Germany with E-Plus and in Belgium with Base.

By June, KPN customers will be able to download Silent Circle's Silent Phone and Silent Text applications from the KPN CloudStore, the operator said in a news release. This will allow iOS and Android users to set up secure communications, it added.

U.S. based Silent Circle offers subscription-based encrypted phone and video calls as well as text messaging via iOS, Android and desktop apps. The services use end-to-end encryption based on open cryptographic standards.

To ensure privacy, Silent Circle's services don't save metadata and encryption keys are only managed on the users' devices so the exchange of keys can happen independently from Silent Circle. Keys are destroyed after every session.

Currently, Silent Circle has servers in Montreal and Toronto and it is planning to set up a new facility in Switzerland, according to its website.

Eventually KPN plans to set up Silent Circle servers in the Netherlands to ensure data doesn't leave the country, KPN spokesman Maurice Piek said.

The company is offering the service to protect the privacy of mobile phone users, Piek said. The collaboration was in part prompted by Snowden's revelations, he said, adding that it is undeniable that more people are getting interested in encrypted communications.

KPN's Silent Circle offerings are mainly aimed at the enterprise market where users for instance want to protect trade secrets when they are traveling abroad, Piek said. But KPN will also offer Silent Circle to consumers, he said.

The pricing will be about the same as Silent Circle's current subscription offerings, according to Piek. Silent Phone and Silent text are together currently available for US$9.95 monthly or $99.95 annually.

Currently, Silent Circle users can only have a U.S. based phone number but KPN will offer the services with a Dutch phone number, Piek said.

Silent Circle is also working with Madrid-based company Geeksphone on a mobile phone that is designed to protect privacy. The new device, called the Blackphone, will be revealed at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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