Feds Close Lavabit, The One NSA-Free Email Service In The U.S. After Snowden Namecheck, Forbid Owners From Telling The Public Why

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.

Ladar Levison
Owner and Operator, Lavabit LLC

Defending the constitution is expensive! Help us by donating to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund here.


THE GUARDIAN: 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. 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. MORE

BUSINESS INSIDER: Google’s propensity to scan emails for key words and then market that data to advertisers was a clear violation of privacy to the Lavabit founders. Among other services, the one they offer, and the one Snowden wanted was an encrypted email service that requires a user’s password to decrypt. It’s called “Asymmetric Encryption.” From the Lavabit site:

The short description is that for users of this feature, incoming e-mail messages are encrypted before they’re saved onto our servers. Once a message has been encrypted, only someone who has the account password can decrypt the message. Like all safety measures, encryption is only effective if it’s used.

There’s a more in-depth description here, but the simple end-state is that the information is passed through a highly convoluted encryption process that ultimately makes it a massive pain in the rear for agencies like the NSA to decrypt. MORE

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