Friday 9 August 2013

Lavabit and Silent Circle Shutter Secure Email Due to Gov. Pressure

Lavabit, the secure email service reportedly used by ex-National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, has abruptly suspended its service without a complete explanation.
A letter posted on the company's homepage by Lavabit owner Ladar Levison said he made the decision to suspend service due to pressure from the U.S. government.

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.

Sincerely, Ladar Levison, Owner and Operator, Lavabit LLC

Lavabit came on the scene in 2004 as a secure and privacy oriented alternative to other more popular email services. The service gained notoriety earlier this year when a representative from Human Rights Watch posted a message from Snowden that included the email address

Following suit shortly after, Silent Circle has also scrapped Silent Mail, a similar encrypted mail service. The move to preempt any possibility that their users would suffer the same fate as LavaBit's customers calls into question whether a US company will ever be able to truly offer a secure mail service. 

Though we are unlikely to ever hear the full story, Levison’s predicament serves to emphasize the delicate nature of privacy and security in a cyber-age. At the end of the day it wasn't just Snowden's account that was closed. This case a loss for every user trying to licitly exercise their right to privacy and security.  

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