Snowden's e-mail provider shuts shop but battles in court to foil US Govt

The email service used by secrets leaker Edward Snowden has abruptly shut down, shocking 350,000 customers. Its owner said it wouldn't "become complicit in crimes against the American people"and is taking its fight to court in the area that US national security agencies are headquartered .

SNOWDEN: E-mail fight goes to US court

A second encrypted e-mail service , Silent Circle, has also announced it is preemptively shutting down its service, saying they “see the writing on the wall.”

Lavabit LLC, an encrypted email service was created in 2004 by Texas programmers who had concerns about Gmail privacy protections.

When Edward Snowden emailed journalists and activists in July to inviting them to a briefing at the Moscow airport during his long stay there, he used the email account “edsnowden@lavabit.com” Forbes reported.

" Being identified as the provider of choice for the country’s most famous NSA whistleblower led to a flurry of attention for Lavabit and its encrypted email services, from journalists, and also, apparently, from government investigators," said Forbes,

Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney for the non-profit digital rights Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Guardian he believed the government had a court order for Lavabit's data.

He said Lavabit appeared to be the first technology company to shut down rather than comply with a court-sanctioned government surveillance order.

"I am unaware of any situation in which a service provider chose to shut down rather than comply with a court order they felt violated the Constitution," he said.

He added he considered the decision by Lavabit owner-operator Ladar Levison "a very bold stand."

"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,"

Levison wrote on a splash screen that replaced the normal Lavabit homepage.

"After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations," Levison continued.

He appealed for funds: "Defending the constitution is expensive! Help us by donating to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund here.

"I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot," he said in his post, which also appeared on the Lavabit Facebook page.

"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," he said.

Levison said Lavabit was now preparing to make an appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

The National Security Agency, whose documents Snowden started leaking in June, is based in Fort Meade, Maryland.

A favorable decision by the circuit court "would allow me [to] resurrect Lavabit as an American company," Levison wrote.

"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," he concluded.

The NSA, Justice Department, White House and the Office of National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper had no immediate comment.

Forbes said that presumably the governmentwas seeking access to Edward Snowden’s email, email metadata, passwords or encryption keys. And presumably, Levison doesn’t want to grant that access.

In the Guardian, Edward Snowden said that other US companies they should take a page from the Lavabit book to protect their users: “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. "

LEVISON'S 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.

Sincerely,
Ladar Levison
Owner and Operator, Lavabit LLC

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