The alleged email provider of National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden has suddenly shut down, leaving just an ominous message in its absence. “I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision,” writes Lavabit owner Ladar Levison on the company’s front page. “I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”
The note, which we’ve pasted in full below, alludes to Levison being silenced under a gag order, forced to choose between being “complicit against the American people” or continuing to operate Lavabit.
According to Human Rights Watch representative Tanya Lokishina, Snowden was corresponding with a lavabit.com email address. Levison is asking readers to contribute to his legal defense fund and support laws in Congress that permit greater transparency.
Unfortunately for Levison, none of the current proposed laws would likely help him. The closest proposal, from Representative Zoe Lofgren (CrunchGov: Grade A), would allow tech companies to reveal the number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court data requests to their users. There’s no language in the Surveillance Order Reporting Act that would permit people under gag orders to reveal their cases publicly.
Major US Internet firms have vehemently denied active participation in an alleged dragnet program, but this latest development doesn’t bode well for their reputation.
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
Update: Silent Circle has just shut down its encrypted email service Silent Mail, following Lavabit’s lead. Silent Circle said it hadn’t received any government demands for data yet, but due to the high-profile nature of its users, the CEO told TechCrunch “We knew the USG would come after us”.