Last week, the email provider reportedly used by National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden was shut down. The owner cited an ongoing court battle that couldn’t be discussed.
Lavabit, a company specializing in high-security email, launched in 2004. The company provided users advanced email encryption designed to thwart the very kind of government snooping that Snowden revealed.
According to reports, Snowden used a Lavabit email address to invite people to a press conference at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow in July after fleeing the United States to avoid government retaliation for his leaks.
In announcing that he would be shuttering the service, Lavabit owner Ladar Levison posted the following message on the company’s website:
My Fellow Users,
I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on–the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.
What’s going to happen now? We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company.
This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.
Owner and Operator, Lavabit LLC
It’s likely that Lavabit has come under attack by the Federal government for fighting a Patriot Act or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act statute that allows government investigators to force companies to hand over user information without informing them.
Silent Circle — a tech firm that offers to customers in 126 countries a host of encrypted communications options including email, chat and voice calling — also decided last week to do away with its email service to avoid having to turn over confidential customer information to the government.
The company announced on its website:
Today, another secure email provider, Lavabit, shut down their system lest they “be complicit in crimes against the American people.” We see the writing the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now. We have not received subpoenas, warrants, security letters, or anything else by any government, and this is why we are acting now.
We’ve been debating this for weeks, and had changes planned starting next Monday. We’d considered phasing the service out, continuing service for existing customers, and a variety of other things up until today. It is always better to be safe than sorry, and with your safety we decided that the worst decision is always no decision.
Lavabit’s closure and the removal of Silent Circle’s encrypted email service from the market lend credence to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s recent report that the Federal government’s spying not only affects American privacy, but will also hurt the economy.
And some international businesses have already made moves to heed Levison’s warning against “trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.” According to ITIF, the economy could suffer losses of $21.5 billion to $35 billion over the next three years because of government spy programs.
Note from the Editor: Under the Obama Administration, the NSA, the IRS, and the State and Justice departments are blatantly stepping on Americans’ privacy—and these are just the breaches we’re aware of. I’ve arranged for readers to get a free copy of The Ultimate Privacy Guide so you can be protected from any form of surveillance by anyone—government, corporate or criminal. Click here for your free copy.