Lavabit, the secure email service that offered an encrypted email service, says it was forced to close rather than “commit crimes against the American people.” Lavabit was Edward Snowden’s email provider of choice, and many are convinced that this is no coincidence, and that the crimes against the people (violations of the constitution and free speech are also cited) have to do with demands by the Feds. And, mere hours after Lavabit shut down, another encrypted email provider, Silent Circle, also folded, citing “legal battles”.
The bottom line is that, almost certainly, these providers of encrypted email – meaning that even with the data, the Feds wouldn’t be able to crack it and read it – have come under immense pressure from the Feds to decrypt email of interest for Federal investigations, or to otherwise provide the Federal government with useful and usable information.
In an open letter, Ladar Levison, founder of Lavabit, explains:
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
LavaBit’s note ended with a plea for donations to a legal defense fund, saying that “Defending the constitution is expensive! Help us by donating to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund here.”
And hours later Silent Circle posted:
To Our Customers
We designed our phone, video, and text services (Silent Phone and Silent Text) to be completely end-to-end secure with all cryptography done on the clients and our exposure to your data to be nil. The reasons are obvious — the less of your information we have, the better it is for you and for us.
Silent Mail has thus always been something of a quandary for us. Email that uses standard Internet protocols cannot have the same security guarantees that real-time communications has. There are far too many leaks of information and metadata intrinsically in the email protocols themselves. Email as we know it with SMTP, POP3, and IMAP cannot be secure.
And yet, many people wanted it. Silent Mail has similar security guarantees to other secure email systems, and with full disclosure, we thought it would be valuable.
However, we have reconsidered this position. We’ve been thinking about this for some time, whether it was a good idea at all. Today, another secure email provider, Lavabit, shut down their system lest they “be complicit in crimes against the American people.” We see the writing the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now. We have not received subpoenas, warrants, security letters, or anything else by any government, and this is why we are acting now.
We’ve been debating this for weeks, and had changes planned starting next Monday. 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 Phone and Silent Text, along with their cousin Silent Eyes are end-to-end secure. We don’t have the encrypted data and we don’t collect metadata about your conversations. They’re continuing as they have been. 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.
We apologize for any inconvenience, and hope you understand that if we dithered, it could be more inconvenient.
Of course, the Feds could have just waited for the coming cryptopocalypse.
Thanks to Amy Gahran at Contentious.com for bringing this to our attention!
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