A Texas-based secure email service that was reportedly used by admitted National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden — and others wishing for secure online communication — says it is shutting down, and legally can’t explain why.
In a cryptic note posted Thursday to the Lavabit website, owner Ladar Levison said the company is folding rather than becoming, in his words, “complicit in crimes against the American people.”
Here’s the note in full (emphasis added):
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
Defending the constitution is expensive! Help us by donating to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund here.
The message doesn’t elaborate, but Snowden’s disclosures have focused attention on how the U.S. government can secretly compel companies to hand over customer information and gag them from talking about it.
Lavabit’s information may be of interest to investigators chasing Snowden’s leaks. Public records show that someone going by “Ed Snowden” registered three addresses with the Dallas firm over the past four years.
But the closure affects more than just Snowden who might have been using the service. In July, Lavabit was reported to have about 350,000 users. Several users have taken to Twitter to express what they’ve lost:
The secure email service Silent Circle, which TheBlaze previously highlighted among ways to protect yourself from government spying, also shut down after Lavabit.
In a blog post Friday, Silent Circle explained that in light of what happened to Lavabit, “we see the writing on the wall.” Silent Circle said it had not yet received “subpoenas, warrants, security letters, or anything else by any government,” but decided to go dark before that could happen.
“We’ve been debating this for weeks, and had changes planned starting next Monday,” the post stated. “We’d considered phasing the service out, continuing service for existing customers, and a variety of other things up until today. It is always better to be safe than sorry, and with your safety we decided that the worst decision is always no decision.”
Silent Circle said that its other services – Silent Phone, Silent Text, Silent Eye — which have end-to-end encryption and on which they don’t collect any metadata, will continue to be offered.
“We are still working on innovative ways to do truly secure communications. Silent Mail was a good idea at the time, and that time is past,” Silent Circle stated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.