Skip to comments.Email service Lavabit abruptly shut down citing government interference
Posted on 08/08/2013 9:51:33 PM PDT by TennesseeProfessor
The email service reportedly used by surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden abruptly shut down on Thursday after its owner cryptically announced his refusal to become "complicit in crimes against the American people."
Lavabit, an email service that boasted of its security features and claimed 350,000 customers, is no more, apparently after rejecting a court order for cooperation with the US government to participate in surveillance on its customers. It is the first such company known to have shuttered rather than comply with government surveillance.
"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," founder Ladar Levison wrote on the company's website, reported by Xeni Jardin the popular news site Boing Boing.
Levison said government-imposed restrictions prevented him from explaining what exactly led to his company's crisis point.
"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," Levison wrote. "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."
Privacy advocates called the move unprecedented. "I am unaware of any situation in which a service provider chose to shut down rather than comply with a court order they felt violated the Constitution," said Kurt Opsahl, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Silent Circle, another provider of secure online services, announced on Thursday night that it would scrap its own encrypted email offering, Silent Mail. In a blogpost the company said that although it had not received any government orders to hand over information, "the writing is on the wall".
Several technology companies that participate in the National Security Agency's surveillance dragnets have filed legal requests to lift the secrecy restrictions that prevent them from explaining to their customers precisely what it is that they provide to the powerful intelligence service either wittingly or due to a court order. Yahoo has sued for the disclosure of some of those court orders.
The presiding judge of the secret court that issues such orders, known as the Fisa court, has indicated to the Justice Department that he expects declassification in the Yahoo case. The department agreed last week to a review that will last into September about the issues surrounding the release of that information.
There are few internet and telecommunications companies known to have refused compliance with the NSA for its bulk surveillance efforts, which the NSA and the Obama administration assert are vital to protect Americans. One of them is Qwest Communications, whose former CEO Joseph Nacchio convicted of insider trading alleged that the government rejected it for lucrative contracts after Qwest became a rare holdout for post-9/11 surveillance.
"Without the companies' participation," former NSA codebreaker William Binney recently told the Guardian, "it would reduce the collection capability of the NSA significantly."
Snowden was allegedly a Lavabit customer. A Lavabit email address believed to come from Snowden invited reporters to a press conference at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport in mid-July.
While Levinson did not say much about the shuttering of his company he notably did not refer to the NSA, for instance he did say he intended to mount a legal challenge.
"We've already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals," Levinson wrote. "A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company."
He continued: "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."
Opsahl noted that the fact that Levinson was appealing a case before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals indicated the government had a court order for Lavabit's data.
"It's taking a very bold stand, one that I'm sure will have financial ramifications," Opsahl said.
"There should be more transparency around this. There's probably no harm to the national security of the United States to have it publicly revealed what are the legal issues here," Opsahl continued.
The justice department said it had no comment to make. Representatives from the NSA, White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Whether these “secure” service providers cave in and cooperate
or shut down and close shop doesn’t matter to the government.
Either outcome is a win for them as the goal is to either surveil
ALL electronic traffic or stop it .
It’s all about total control....either result satisfy’s that agenda.
Yep. Tormail got shut down too.
"If the right forces us all to either defend (Jeremiah) Wright or tear him down, no matter what we choose, we lose the game they've put upon us. Instead, take one of them Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares and call them racists."
That should have ended his writing career. Do you really think that FR is an appropriate place to post his articles?
Levison is a good man!
I will support him with my business in any new venture he starts...he just got a HUGE gold star for this action.
Statement from LAVABIT
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 whats 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.
Whats going to happen now? Weve 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
Defending the constitution is expensive! Help us by donating to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund here.
Was just reading this. I wouldn’t be surprised if the government threatened to hit him with as many counts of conspiracy as e-mails Snowden had sent if they didn’t close down.
Whatever Snowden leaked, was probably very, very important. I bet the information he still has is likely even more important.
But I thought the data was always encrypted
When one Hushmail user sends an email to another Hushmail user, the body and attachments of that email are kept on our server in encrypted form, and under normal circumstances, we would have no access to that data. We cant just pick an arbitrary encrypted email message off the server and read it. An encrypted email message cannot be decrypted without the passphrase, and in the normal course of operations, we do not store passphrases. However, we may be required to store a passphrase for an account identified in a court order enforceable in British Columbia, Canada.
Sunlight is a disinfectant, and cockroaches hate it.
I hope Levison doesn’t have any “accidents.”
It is not reasonable to ask any American to participate in violating the Constitutional rights of other US citizens.
The case is fairly simple. (1) The US can listen to the communications of foreign enemies whether they're talking to US citizens or not. This is allowed by law. (2) The US cannot collect/listen to communications (any variety) of US citizens. This is not allowed by law (or constitution), and there is good reason to believe it has been taking place.
The 2nd is what Snowden revealed and is what makes him a whistleblower instead of a spy/traitor.
And it's also why listening to any email used by Snowden is not acceptable. If it's in contact with foreign enemies, then go ahead and listen. If not, then there's no reason for it.
The secret courts and secret warrants and legal muzzles are also problematic.
The government will go to any lengths to protect it’s perceived right to do anything it wants because it has (a perceived right) to OUR money (i.e., taxes). And with secret courts, nothing is beyond their capability! Wait...isn’t that what they do in communist countries?
While I blame all presidents since at lest WWII for helping to bring this about, especially GWB, this is happening under Obama. He has taken it to a new level. A level so low and vile, that if a Republican had done this, we would have marches in streets, with literally hundreds of thousands Americans participating. Obama will continue all of this because he knows he can. He needs to be stopped by Congress. I am now starting to see that Rand Paul has a chance in 2016, if he plays his cards right. Assuming we still have an election then.
Revolt is coming.
Businesses with trade secrets and details of negotiations to protect - not illegal by any stretch - are going to want to minimize the risk of bureaucratic surveillance.
This will cost our economy bigtime. For example:
If he doesn’t want the federal government telling him what to do, he could move to the Cayman Islands and offer his service there, and make it a satellite-only service provider. The federal government would no longer have jurisdiction.
Guarantee you it's not about Snowden, but about opening the system up, to the feds, for ALL users.
So, if I send myself an email with several ‘key words’, would I get the full force of BB no-knocking on my door?