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Private Internet Access Interview: Founder Andrew Lee

The following is an interview with Andrew Lee, who co-founded Private Internet Access, one of the most popular VPN services right now. He also co-founded Mt. Gox Live which was acquired by Mt. Gox, the world’s leading Bitcoin exchange, and built their official mobile application. He is a long-time advocate of privacy. We asked him about his history, the future of PIA, and the future of privacy in this NSA snooping world.


You are a founder of several companies, why / how did you become an entrepreneur?

I've been heavily involved with the internet since the early 90s and have been a sort of "serial entrepreneur" for no other reason than the fact that there were "needs that needed to be fulfilled online." In general, business/services I have been involved with up until now have been very much in-line with my personal lifestyle.

Do you think you are more technical minded or business minded?

I like to think I'm more of a business activist, but I have been known to develop software in the past (Mt. Gox Mobile, etc.).

What is your goal with PIA?

Our goal with PIA is to bring back the Wild Wild West that we loved so much, because it creates a system in which people are able to learn what they wish to learn, say what they wish to say, experience what they wish to experience, and create what they wish to create. I know this sounds corny, but an internet without boundaries or limitations, in which we can achieve our dreams, is our goal.

What is your goal generally (in life)? Where do you see yourself in 50 years?

I would like to see change. I understand that a single lifetime is limited and only so much can be accomplished. However, there are things that cause pain, suffering and stress that we can really make trivial with the use of technology.
In 50 years, I hope to be alive on Earth. However, if I am not, I hope to be known in history as a man who helped bring "happiness" to this world. In fact, I will see to it that historians label myself as such.

It's rather, the lack of privacy causes me so much fear, as it should everyone. I would much rather walk around nude, private parts and all, than to have my private mind captured by others from surveillance or other data mining means.

PIA has stated that it would close down rather than compromise its customers’ privacy. It would appear that Silent Circle and Lavabit have already been forced into this position. Do you think that PIA may also be put in this position, and why?

We do not believe that we will be put in this position. We feel that the government will not risk creating any more PR disasters like those created from Lavabit and Silent Circle. This is especially true since we have already publicly stated what we would do on our blog if we were to be put into this position along with the fact that we are orders of magnitude larger than Lavabit and Silent Circle. That being said, we are actively taking precautions that will reduce the risk of that occurring and are presently in discussion with legal counsel from the EFF, ACLU, and FFTF amongst others.

There are actually a number of features that are in progress or in queue within our development pipeline. I can't go into more detail than this given the maturity of these projects, but the "advanced" settings area will have a lot more incorporated within its interface soon.

We like the Android VPN app, but miss the features offered by the desktop version (especially the internet kill switch). Are there any plans to add these?

We will be adding many of the features into our Android application soon. Admittedly, our Android app has not had the attention it deserves as we have been focusing on expanding our internal infrastructure. We now have over 547 servers, and we're still continuing to expand our infrastructure to provide the best quality of service to our customers.

We notice that PIA lacks servers in South East Asia (which means that we tend not to recommend PIA for users there) – do you have any plans expand in this area?

We've seen significant demand for servers in SE Asia. The issue, however, is that we do not wish to provide anything to our customers unless it can provide the level of quality customers have come to expect from Private Internet Access in terms of speed and privacy. That being said, networks simply aren't wired the same way in Asia, meaning international bandwidth is generally fairly limited or grossly overpriced.
However, we're in discussion with providers and are working out details to bring this to our customers soon! We're very serious about our commitment to full, un-throttled, unsaturated gigabit gateways, and at this point we have the muscle to negotiate rates to keep our prices low for customers. Please stay tuned!

Do you have any plans to release a dedicated Linux VPN client?

We will be releasing a dedicated Linux application soon as well! Please keep the suggestions/recommendations coming!

PIA uses 128-bit CBS blowfish encryption. While we think this is sufficient for most purposes, the recent cracking of 2 encrypted hard drives in the Jeffrey Feldman case, plus the knowledge that the NSA can bend insane resources towards the task of decryption makes us wonder if it maybe time to move towards 256-bit AES encryption. What are your thoughts on this?

We are rolling out AES-256 as an in-app option for all of our users shortly. There will not be any additional changes required other than a quick client upgrade. This feature will be made available at no extra cost to any of our current or future customers.

In this age of aggressive government surveillance, are you worried about the future of VPN services in general?

We are afraid for the entire landscape of the internet, in general. However, we are confident that we will be able to continue to find ways to protect the privacy of our users far into the future.

What do you think about these revelations? Is Edward Snowden a hero or a traitor?

I think that these revelations are preposterous. While the intentions for all of this may have been good, the destruction of the privacy of citizens of this world is by no means worth sacrificing. I do believe Edward Snowden did a great justice in protecting society.

What are some developments you think would make the VPN industry better?

There are many that will improve the industry, and we are working on them now!

Where do you see PIA in 5 years?

I want to see PIA, and the entire industry together, grow significantly and pretty much be utilized by everyone in the world. That will mean that we, along with our friendly competitors, will have succeed in protecting the privacy of the world.

We are happy that our customers enjoy our service and hope and pledge to continue to provide service to all of our customers to the best of our abilities far into the future.

What would you say to all the people on Reddit asking about PIA being secure from the US government to reassure them?

We are fighting the good fight and engaging all subject matter experts. We will protect you.

Written by: Pete Zaborszky

Founder of and privacy advocate even before Edward Snowden's revelations. Computing graduate from Imperial College London. Speaker at cybersecurity conferences e.g. IPExpo and regularly speaks on tech podcasts.


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