'Assume you're being monitored,' says censored Lavabit owner Ladar Levison - who can't even talk to his lawyer

The owner of the encrypted email service believed to have been used by whistleblower Edward Snowden has spoken out about why he shut it down.

Interview: Ladar Levison spoke to Democracy Now

In an interview with Democracy Now, Ladar Levison said he hoped media interest in the story would lead journalists to “uncover what’s going on” and said security restrictions now placed on him meant there was information he wasn’t even able to discuss with his lawyer.

“I think if the American public knew what our government was doing, they wouldn’t be allowed to do it anymore.

“I mean, there’s information that I can’t even share with my lawyer, let alone with the American public. So if we’re talking about secrecy, you know, it’s really been taken to the extreme.

“And I think it’s really being used by the current administration to cover up tactics that they may be ashamed of."

Lavabit was created around the time the US Patriot Act – which gave US authorities expanded surveillance powers in the aftermath of September 11 and the launch of the war on terror - became law in 2004, which was a factor in convincing Levison to focus on the “privacy niche and the security focus niche”.

Levison urged people to assume any electronic communications they engage in are being monitored and discussed why he took the decision to shut down his email service, which had 410,000 registered users.

“I’ve compared the decision to that of, you know, putting a beloved pet to sleep, you know, faced with the choice of watching it suffer of putting it to sleep quietly.

“It was a very difficult decision, but I felt that in the end I had to pick between the lesser of two evils and that shutting down the service, if it was no longer secure, was the better option.”

The option of running Lavabit abroad was ruled out by Levison, who said he would have to move abroad to do it and spoke of his respect for Edward Snowden’s decision to make heavy sacrifices to speak out.

“As an American citizen, I’m still subject to the laws and jurisdiction of the United States, particularly as long as I continue to live here.

“That’s why I have a lot of respect for Snowden, because he gave up his entire life, the life that he’s known his entire life, so that he could speak out. I haven’t gotten to that point.

“I still hope that it’s possible to run a private service, private cloud data service, here in the United States without necessarily being forced to conduct surveillance on your users by the American government.”

When Levison shut the service down earlier this month, he said he would not “become complicit in crimes against the American people”. Levison said he hopes speaking out will put pressure on Congress and the American political system to address how much entitlement the government has to monitor private communications.

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