Does that sound too good to be true? It isn't. Does it sound too complicated (like most email encryption programs) to use? It isn't. Does it sound like vapor-ware, to be released "real soon now"? Nope: you can get it now. It's free (FOSS).
OK; it's in Beta. But it's usable as is. And no, right now it's not going to replace your everyday email. However there are those of us who need to be able to communicate without having our email read, and without having the metadata attached to it added to NSA's databases: metadata like the person it's going to, or what the sender's address is, or the location of either party. There are journalists here on Dkos; activists who are constantly getting hassled by the powers that be; citizens of countries that are even worse than the U.S. about surveillance (Edit: hmmm... let's say countries that have worse ramifications for their surveillance), whose freedom is at risk just posting here.
It's an offshoot of the Bitcoin project (which I have been involved with for over two years now). It's called Bitmessage. And it's pretty cool...
So I will try to explain it as generically as possible - because I'm reasonably sure there are folks here who will find Bitmessage to be useful, at the least. If you have an interest, hit the website (below) - it's very detailed.
Fair Disclosure: While I was a large network designer and admin for about twenty years, I am not a security professional. The developers are known and trusted in the Bitcoin community, and are pursuing a full-blown, third-party security audit. Prudence and thoughtful vetting is therefore indicated, in proportion to your individual security needs.
Bitmessage is a P2P email client that you install on your computer. Windows, Linux or iOS (although iOS is "lightly tested"). It works more-or-less the same as Bitcoin: there is a thing - a big, single file - called a blockchain (actually the file name is messages.dat) that everybody gets all of, and which updates all the time. It is fully encrypted. All of the messages sent by everyone who uses the system are in that file - but you can only decrypt those messages intended for you. When you send a message to someone it is encrypted and placed into the blockchain with all of everybody else's messages - but the only person who can decrypt that one message is your intended recipient.
The blockchain of Bitcoin is huge now, of course. It's up to around 9GB. That really wouldn't do for Bitmessage, where you have to download and constantly update it to get all the latest messages. So the developers truncate the file at two days worth of messages. Stuff older than two days is automagically deleted. * shrug * Who doesn't pick up and respond to their email within two days when they're dealing with important stuff?
So... metadata. With this scheme there is no metadata. When you send a message, you don't leave your 'address' anywhere; you're just inserting some encrypted information into the blockchain. When you receive a message there is no address for it to go to; what you're doing is scanning the entire blockchain for any part of it that your client can decrypt - if your client finds something that can be decrypted then it's a message for you. If your client can't decrypt any part of the blockchain, then you have no new messages. It's easy to see how this eliminates address and location metadata, no?
Spam has been made quite difficult. Part of the scheme is what is called 'Proof of Work'. You can't send a message unless you do some work to help support and propagate the Bitmessage network. It's kind of like you can't have dessert until you eat those damn peas. So when you send a message your computer screws around for three or four minutes in the background, doing some work - then your message is added to the blockchain and transmitted. If you're familiar with Bitcoin, this is similar to the mining process, but much less computationally intensive.
Do you have a favorite email client? It's Thunderbird, right? No? Ummm... bummer. Thunderbird is pretty much it right now - but the rest of them are coming. You can find integration instructions for Thunderbird in the Bitmessage Forum - but some other clients are said to work with some effort C'mon - it's in Beta. And you don't really need an email client - Bitmessage has its own graphical user interface (GUI), and it's fine using it that way.
Does it work with Tor? Yes. With your firewall? Yes. See the FAQ. You may have to bypass your anti-virus scanner (i.e., click on "Install Anyway" and maybe add Bitmessage to your Whitelist if you get a pop-up warning).
Can it be used in Portable Mode (run off a thumbdrive so you can take it all with you and leave nothing on the computer you're running it with)? Yes.
You get Delivery Receipts, and there is also a kind of 'group' type email called Broadcast.
The website is http://www.bitmessage.org
The Windows client is a one-click startup for XP and above: just a *.exe executable. Linux and iOS users will have to do a little command line work - but it's straightforward. The FAQ is pretty thorough, and there's a link to a practical installation and use guide by somebody else (the CryptoJunky link on the Home Page) that's good: I recommend it.
There's an Echo Server you can send your first message to - round trip theoretically takes a few minutes, when the server is up (it's in Beta... remember?). It can take quite awhile for your first messages to be returned, in practice. Don't despair: it works.
My Bitmessage address is:
(But in the client you can give those weird addresses a name...)
Drop me a line if you like. I'm still learning it, and practice makes perfect. I may also be faster than the Echo Server, on a day when I'm checking messages.
And if you think that's something, there's a group working on a Twitter replacement called BitChirp.