August 9, 2013
Edward Snowden Email Service Shut Down Amid Pressure From Secret Court
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Former NSA employee turned whistleblower Edward Snowden made headlines when he leaked documents detailing the American government’s surveillance programs.
Now the email service that Snowden used to privately communicate with human rights workers and lawyers has shut down amid pressure from a secret US court. The email client, Lavabit, claimed that the decision to shut the service down is confounded by the fact that the site is also barred from explaining why the service ended.
Lavabit provided secured data and encrypted emails on its hosted servers, only allowing users access to this information if they had a secured password. It is believed that Snowden has been using this service since 2010, and now he and 350,000 other users are left without the service they paid for. Ladar Levison, the owner/operator of Lavabit, said he has 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,” explains Levison in a statement posted on lavabit.com.
“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.”
Kevin Poulsen with Wired.com suggests that Lavabit may have been served with National Security Letters (NSLs) seeking information about Snowden and the information located in his email inbox. These NSLs are famously attached to gag orders preventing the recipient of not only discussing the letters but discussing the existence of such letters.
Though Levison supposedly anguished over this decision, those users who had paid for the service were notably upset by his sudden decision.
“Too bad that I payed some years in advance to keep up the good work that now turns out to be terminated without any warning,” wrote one user on the Lavabit Facebook page.
Levison now says he’s going to continue the fight in the Fourth Circuit of Court of Appeals, but without a win here, Lavabit will remain closed.
Levison’s statement does not hold hope that service will soon be restored or that the current state of government surveillance will change.
“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.”
Following Lavabit’s decision, Silent Circle claimed they saw the “writing on the wall” and preemptively closed their encrypted mail service as well, lest they too be served with NSLs or other governmental requests for information.
“We have not received subpoenas, warrants, security letters, or anything else by any government, and this is why we are acting now,” reads the statement from Silent Circle.
Though Silent Mail is closed, the company will continue to support and offer Silent Phone, Silent Text and Silent Eyes.