Lavabit, the encrypted email service used by Edward Snowden, is going to voluntarily shut down as a result of government muscling to turnover user content. Ladar Levison, Lavabit’s founder, said the “US directive forced . . . a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work.”
Lavabit is an encrypted email service provider that offered extended privacy and security among its users. The encryptions were so tight, that Lavabit itself couldn’t even read the contents of its users.
Levison challenged the order in a secret court proceeding but lost, and now Levison is appealing the case to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Levison has been giving most minimal outlines of the government’s interaction with him because he is not allowed to talk about the case. If Levison were to speak publicly about the case, he could face “serious criminal sanctions.”
“The first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this,” said Levison. “Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise.”
Levison made the decision to shut down Lavabit in protest of the government’s violation of basic constitutional rights. The government has not only tried assert its violation of the fourth amendment by trying to obtain Lavabit’s user content, but has also violated Levison’s first amendment rights by threatening him with punishment should he speak about the case.
Encrypted service provider, Silent Circle, followed Lavabit’s lead and indefinitely suspended its protected email service. Granted, Silent Circle never received any government orders to turnover records, the company still believed the wisest move was to take after Lavabit and close down shop.
“Lavabit shut down their system lest they ‘complicit with crimes against against the American people,’” said a Silent Circle blog post. “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.”
The decision of these companies to shut down their email services has been highly praised by privacy advocates, as the decision has been called “unprecedented” and “inspiring.”
“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,” said NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. “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”