Earlier this week, it emerged that the Brazilian government has asked Correios, the national postal service, to look into the possibility of developing of a public webmail platform.
The aim of the locally-hosted "anti-snooping" alternative is to protect citizen data following the recent allegations that the US government has been monitoring data on Brazilian citizens, including president Dilma Rousseff. We talked to Correios about the initiative.
Repurposing existing systems
Correios is one of the biggest state-owned companies in Brazil and employs more than 115,000 people across the country, with a massive IT infrastructure supporting its operations. According to government ministers, the development of online security products such as digital certificates had been an area of focus at Correios in the last couple of years, so the project is not a knee-jerk reaction to the NSA episodes.
The postal service maintained an email system for end users, CorreiosNet, which was phased out earlier this year. So clearly the idea was not to return to that space - that is, until they the organization was tasked with scoping out the national email service.
According to the vice president of IT and infrastructure at Correios, Antonio Luiz Fuschino, the initial idea is to reuse the foundations of a "digital correpondence system" which has been developed since 2012, but as a corporate service.
"The Ministry of Communications asked Correios to look into the feasibility of offering that service to citizens for free," Fuschino said.
"We have technical structure and skills to build for the development of the system, but we may also bring more personnel in and start partnerships," he added, in an indication that Correios will have to scale up its IT operations if the service becomes a reality.
According to Fuschino, the organization is figuring out the costs involved in offering email servces to an online population of more than 100 million people.
"Costs will be met through partnerships and advertising, just like other email services that are already available."
Will information be safer?
The future email service would use encryption to prevent content from being read by anyone but the intended recipients and data will be hosted in datacenters located in Brazil.
Will citizen data really be safer if it is stored away from the prying eyes of other countries? The government believes that is going to be the case, but industry observers are not so sure about that.
"Storing data in Brazil should, in theory, make it more difficult for external parties to access information. But there is never a 100 percent guarantee - you often see instances in Brazil where people have been able to access to tax information, which is held by the government and should be safe," says IDC telecoms analyst João Paulo Bruder.
Why the postal service?
Is Correios the most appropriate department to handle a public email service along the lines of Gmail? In theory, yes, because since 2011 the company is allowed to provide digital services.
The Brazilian government also owns Serpro, the Federal Data Processing Service, which is the country's largest public IT organisation and provides services including tax self-assessment tools, national insurance and driving license records to name a few.
"Correios does not have expertise in terms of email management, but I suppose that is not what this is about: whoever manages this [service] gets more political power," says IDC's Bruder.
However, the government's opinion is that since Correios is responsible for the delivery of physical letters and parcels, it should also be accountable for email - which, in their view, is just another type of correpondence.
Is the creation of a locally-hosted email system the best way to protect data? Will other countries follow suit? Let us know your views in the comments below.