At least two email services and a law blog are collateral damage casualties of the war between the U.S. National Security Agency and former employee Edward Snowden, now a criminal fugitive from justice or political refugee, depending upon your point of view, under Russia’s protection. A couple of other email services have reportedly announced they may follow suit.
Snowden had been a user of 32 year old Texan Ladar Levison’s email service, which offered encryption. Mr. Levison has shut down the ten year old Lavabit service, posting the following explanatory notice on the erstwhile Lavabit home page site: http://lavabit.com/
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.
Owner and Operator, Lavabit LLC
If so inclined, you can support Mr. Levison by donating to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund.
The Register’s Simon Sharwood reports that Silent Circle, a service that had offered extraordinarily secure communications, has also decided to shutter its Silent Mail email service.
Yet another casualty is Pamela Jones’s Gloklaw law blog site. Ms. Jones explains that she’s reached the conclusion that there is no way to continue doing Groklaw long-term under the circumstances (that is, without secure email), so she’s pulling the plug.
And Russia Today reports that Following Levison’s move to shutter Lavabit, the Riseup email service issued a statement saying, “We would rather pull the plug than submit to repressive surveillance by our government, or any government,” and Encrypted chat client Cryptocat announced that, “If we receive a surveillance or backdoor order that we are unable to legally fight, we will shut down Cryptocat rather than implement it.”
I’ve had a Lavabit email account since almost the time the service started up a decade ago, and I’m sorry to see it shut down, not to mention somewhat inconvenienced by the abruptness of its departure. I never used the encryption feature, but Lavabit was extraordinarily reliable as an indie provider of free general email service, and I’ll miss it.