Last week, secure email service providers began shutting down their services in order to avoid being “complicit in crimes against the American people,” as one founder put it.

Now, Ladar Levison, the owner of the currently closed encrypted email service Lavabit, which was speculated to be a service admitted NSA leaker Edward Snowdn used, is talking — somewhat — about why he did it.

Speaking with Democracy Now, Levison sat with his lawyer Jesse Binnall and said, “Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it. I would like to, believe me.”

ladar levison

Ladar Levison (right) with his lawyer Jesse Binnall (left) spoke to Democracy Now, sharing what he legally could about why he shut down the encrypted email service Lavabit. (Image: YouTube video screenshot)

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

In the exclusive broadcast interview, Levison compared closing his site to “putted a beloved pet to sleep.”

“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,” Levison said.

When asked with what the other option would have been, Levison said he couldn’t share more about it.

“My hope is that the media can uncover what’s going on, without my assistance [...] to in effect put a cap on what it is the government is entitled to in terms of our private communications,” Levison continued.

Levison explained that Lavabit provided an encrypted email and storage service where only the user could access their information with a password. Not even Levison as the operator could access it.

“As a third party, I didn’t want to be put in a situation where I had to turn over private information,” Levison said, explaining why he set up the service the way he did. “I just didn’t have it. I didn’t have access to it. And that may have been the situation I was facing.”

Watch the full, 15-min. interview:

Lavabit wasn’t the only email service to shut down last week. In light of Lavabit’s decision to close, Silent Circle too said it would stop hosting an encrypted email as well.

Last week, Snowden praised Levison’s decision to shut down the site. He told The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald ”it is our job to remind [the government] that there are limits to what we will pay.”

“America cannot succeed as a country where individuals like Mr. Levison have to relocate their businesses abroad to be successful. 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,” Snowden continued. “The defense they have offered to this point is that they were compelled by laws they do not agree with, but one day of downtime for the coalition of their services could achieve what a hundred Lavabits could not.”

In his interview with Democracy Now, Levison was asked if he would consider moving Lavabit abroad, to which he said he doesn’t think he could run it abroad as an American citizen.

“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,” he said. “That’s why I have a lot of respect for Snowden, because he gave up 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,” Levison said.

(H/T: Tech Crunch)