In early July, it was suggested that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden used Lavabit. For those unaware, it's a small email provider based out of Texas that promises the utmost privacy through encryption. The service had a small following, but now it's gone.
In a post on the Lavabit home page, owner Ladar Levison said that he's shutting down Lavabit to avoid becoming "complicit in crimes against the American people." What exactly does that mean? He can't say due to gag laws, but it probably means that he started to receive requests for user data from the U.S. government. Instead of handing over the keys to the feds, he has decided to shut everything down.
Here's the letter in full:
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
In early June, it was revealed that the NSA has access to emails and other communications from the major American tech firms. Another program revealed last month - XKeysore - allows the agency to sift through emails using only a keyword or other variables.
Lavabit would be an especially desirable target as the company offered encrypted email services to anybody who wanted it. Even if intercepted, it would take a lot of work to break open the encrypted emails. The federal government probably requested that Lavabit give them unfettered access to all emails being sent to and from the service.
It's nice to see Lavabit's founder stick to his morals, but the circumstances surrounding its closure doesn't exactly make one feel any better about other email services. Google and others have claimed that the government doesn't have direct access to Americans' emails and are even fighting in court to remove the gag orders to prove it. Even so, leaks from over the past few months have shown that the NSA has unprecedented access to email communications, and the closure of Lavabit only adds more evidence to the claims that the NSA, and the federal government, aren't being forthright with the American people.[h/t: Reddit via crshbndct]