Encrypted e-mail providers cease operations, block government access

• Company revealed to be used by Edward Snowden shuts down

By Brandon Reid
Senior Assistant Editor

Edward Snowden’s crusade against the U.S. government’s secret surveillance of U.S. citizens is having a domino effect.

Last week, U.S.-based encrypted e-mail providers Lavabit and Silent Circle shut down operations in protest of demands laid out in secret U.S. court orders that Lavabit provide the U.S. government access to its users’ content.

Lavabit, a Texas-based encrypted e-mail service, was recently revealed to be used by Snowden, the 30-year-old former technical contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency and former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency who leaked details of several top-secret U.S. and British government mass surveillance programs to the press. Snowden, sought by U.S. authorities, was granted temporary asylum in Russia for one year Aug. 1.

President Barack Obama said in a speech Aug. 9 that he does not “see Mr. Snowden as a patriot.” He added that Snowden has been charged with three felonies for the leaks.

Ladar Levison, owner and operator of Lavabit LLC, posted the following to the front page of the company’s website Aug. 8:

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 10 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 [to] 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 (https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_flow&SESSION=f6VX3j7OfquobZNVcwguvdfzhlF2N1-wRRj3afwrOrLBcpeE5it2M19_NcW&dispatch=5885d80a13c0db1f8e263663d3faee8d92b37e35c82a7c965120dd5a9b6ad0e3).

Aug. 9, Silent Circle, a U.S.-based secure online communication service, also shut down its own encrypted e-mail service. While it had not yet been served with a court order, the company’s founder, Phil Zimmerman, said in a statement, “We see the writing on the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now.”

Glenn Greenwald, in an Aug. 9 article (“Lavabit’s Brave Stand: Email Service Shuts Down”) in The Guardian, wrote:

Snowden, who told me today that he found Lavabit’s stand “inspiring,” added:

Ladar Levison and his team suspended the operations of their 10-year-old business rather than violate the Constitutional rights of their roughly 400,000 users. The president, Congress and the courts have forgotten that the costs of bad policy are always borne by ordinary citizens, and it is our job to remind them that there are limits to what we will pay.

America cannot succeed as a country where individuals like Mr. Levison have to relocate their businesses abroad to be successful. Employees and leaders at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple and the rest of our Internet titans must ask themselves why they aren’t fighting for our interests the same way small businesses are. The defense they have offered to this point is that they were compelled by laws they do not agree with, but one day of downtime for the coalition of their services could achieve what a hundred Lavabits could not.

When Congress returns to session in September, let us take note of whether the Internet industry’s statements and lobbyists — which were invisible in the lead-up to the Conyers-Amash vote — emerge on the side of the Free Internet or the NSA and its Intelligence Committees in Congress.”

Read Greenwald’s article at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/09/lavabit-shutdown-snowden-silicon-valley.

From the Aug. 14-20, 2013, issue

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