Remember when word circulated that Edward Snowden was using Lavabit, an email service that purports to provide better privacy and security for users than popular web-based free services like Gmail? Lavabit's owner has shut down the service, and posted a message on the lavabit.com home page today about wanting to avoid "being complicit in crimes against the American people."
According to the statement, it appears he rejected a US court order to cooperate with the government in spying on users.
The email service offered various security features to a claimed user base of 350,000, and is the first such firm to have publicly and transparently closed down, rather than cooperate with state surveillance programs. The email address Snowden (or someone sending emails on his behalf) is reported to have used to send invites to a press conference at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport in mid-July was a Lavabit account.
Below, the full message from Lavabit's founder and operator Ladar Levison:
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.
Several technology companies that participate in the National Security Agency's surveillance dragnets have filed legal requests to lift the secrecy restrictions that prevent them from explaining to their customers precisely what it is that they provide to the powerful intelligence service – either wittingly or due to a court order. Yahoo has sued for the disclosure of some of those court orders.
The presiding judge of the secret court that issues such orders, known as the Fisa court, has indicated to the Justice Department that he expects declassification in the Yahoo case. The department agreed last week to a review that will last into September about the issues surrounding the release of that information.
There are few internet and telecommunications companies known to have refused compliance with the NSA for its bulk surveillance efforts, which the NSA and the Obama administration assert are vital to protect Americans. One of them is Qwest Communications, whose former CEO Joseph Nacchio – convicted of insider trading – alleged that the government rejected it for lucrative contracts after Qwest became a rare holdout for post-9/11 surveillance.
"Without the companies' participation," former NSA codebreaker William Binney recently told the Guardian, "it would reduce the collection capability of the NSA significantly."