The Calyx Institute

An Internet and telephone service provider that puts customer privacy first

Short Summary

Hi, my name is Nicholas Merrill and I am starting a new non-profit organization called The Calyx Institute.  I have a bit of a track record of fighting for the right to privacy on the Internet, and I have a plan to radically transform the way the Telecommunications industry works.

The Calyx Institute is named after my former Internet Service Provider (Calyx Internet Access) which I started in NYC in 1994, and which became the plaintiff in the original challenge against the constitutionality of National Security Letters in the USA Patriot Act beginning in 2004, known as Doe v. Ashcroft, Doe v. Mukasey, Doe v. Gonzales and finally Doe v. Holder.

It all started when I received a National Security Letter from the FBI demanding a long list of information about one of my ISPs clients. With the ACLU’s help, I fought the FBI and DOJ in federal court for six years, under gag order. I was forbidden, under threat of imprisonment, from telling anyone that I had received the letter or that I was the plaintiff in the case.    It was only in 2010 that I was finally able to identify myself.  In 2007, despite the gag order I wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post called "My National Security Letter Gag Order".  Later, after I was un-gagged, I wrote a follow-up op-ed also in the Washington Post talking about my experience.

Soon after, I began to do media appearances and interviews. My first television appearance talking about the case was on Democracy Now.

During the years I was under the gag order, I realized there was a need for an organization to reform the telecommunications industry’s approach to user privacy and freedom of expression. This project aims to turn that realization into reality.

During those years I developed a strong relationship with organizations like the ACLU and EFF, and I realized that they want to do a lot more to protect our rights online. But without an ally in the telecom world, their hands are tied. Calyx will be the ally public interest organizations need in the telecom world to help them fight for users’ constitutional rights.

This project’s goal is to raise funds for my nonprofit organization, Calyx Institute, which will launch a privacy-focused Internet Service Provider and mobile phone service using end-to-end encryption technology.  The software is already under development by another nonprofit foundation called LEAP who has given Calyx the green light to be the first commercial provider. The money we raise will go towards setting up a datacenter and implementing the first mass market deployment of this new Internet communications platform, and in a second stage, a mobile phone platform.

Through other partnerships, we are poised to offer Internet service in 70 markets in the US using wireless spectrum which we will bundle with end-to-end encrypted Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology in order to keep the customer's data as private as possible. The next products on the roadmap include hosted email and cloud storage/sync systems that utilize public key cryptography so that only the user possesses the key required to decrypt their email or files. This means that the provider (Calyx) will not be able to read your email or files even if it wanted to.  And if Calyx can’t read it, it can’t be targeted by unconstitutional surveillance tactics.

The goal the organization has set for itself is to use every legal and technical means available to protect the privacy of customer data. As I said in the recent article about my project on CNET, "It's a really urgent problem that is crying out for a solution.” Please help us by becoming a part of that solution.

What We Need & What You Get

The Calyx Institute needs to raise at least $1-million for a bare-bones launch; $2-million would get things up and running quicker.

The funds will go towards building a small datacenter here in NYC where Calyx is headquartered, and to setting up the associated infrastructure of Internet connections, peering, back-end software infrastructure and some basic salaries for a skeleton staff.

If we don't reach our funding goal, we will use what we do raise to do as much as we can with whatever we can raise.  I have a lot of experience running a business on a shoe-string budget, as I started my original ISP with only $10,000 of initial funds.

The Impact

This project is valuable because it creates a much needed alternative to existing commercial telcos; the ones we all know and most people are unsatisfied with.

In addition, it will develop open-source technology and policies that any ISP or mobile provider can use, which will create a public benefit.

I think this is the sort of transformative and disruptive project that could reverberate nationally and beyond.

This is your opportunity to radically change the landscape of telecommunications in America today, and hopefully in the world tomorrow.

Other Ways You Can Help

If you are not in a position to contribute financially, I understand.  Things are tough out there these days.  

What you can do if you want to support this effort is to get the word out and make some noise about this fundraising campaign!

Please use the Indiegogo share tools to spread the word, use Twitter, use Facebook and other social media, or just tell people who you know that would be interested.

You can follow Calyx on twitter @calyxinstitute and you can like our facebook page

Together we can make a difference!


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