Encrypted Email Service Provider Lavabit Suspends Operations, Possibly Due to Edward Snowden Connection

August 10, 2013
Encrypted Email Service Provider Lavabit Suspends Operations, Possibly Due to Edward Snowden Connection
Encrypted email service provider Lavabit suspended operations last Thursday. The Texas-based company's website now shows a statement from Ladar Levison, the company's owner and operator. The statement seems to suggest the company's move is a response to interference by the United States government. The statement also suggests that the details behind the company's suspension of services have been placed under a gag order which forbids their discussion:

"I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision," suggests Levison's statement. " 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."

A number of sources have suggested that one possible reason for the government's interest in the company is that its services may have been used by Edward Snowden. Mr. Snowden recently caused a storm by releasing details related to PRISM, a secret mass data collection program operated by the United States National Security Agency (NSA) that started in 2007.

Officially called SIGAD US-984XN, the program became widely known when British newspaper the Guardian and the Washington Post published a story based on Mr. Snowden's disclosures. These included the suggestion that the agency tracked "nearly everything a typical user does on the Internet" including collecting emails and chats.

His revelation that key cloud providers were complicit in providing information to the US government has been cited as being extremely damaging to US cloud computing and are likely to cost the industry $22 to $35 Billion by 2016.

Mr. Snowden is currently in Russia where he has been given asylum. It has been suggested that Snowden emailed Russian Human Rights Watch researcher Tanya Lokshina and asked her to attend a meeting at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow to discuss his asylum request. That email was purportedly sent from "edsnowden@lavabit.com".

Lavabit was founded in 2004 as Nerdshack LLC. The inspiration behind the company were concerns about the privacy offered Gmail, Google's free email service. Lavabit used asymmetric encryption to protect users' emails and it became recognized as the Internet's most secure service. At the time it suspended services the company had in the range of 400,000 users operating free and paid accounts.

As stated in its philosophy / mission statement, from the outset Lavabit was committed to providing an "e-mail service that never sacrifices privacy for profits" and which would "only release private information if legally compelled by the courts in accordance with the U.S. Constitution." The company came through with that promise when Levison suggested on the company website that Lavabit would not be "complicit in crimes against the American people" and suspended operations. Levison statement is also set to further damage the US cloud industry. Levison wrote, "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."

What are your views on the PRISM fallout as far as the industry is concerned? Let us know your point of view. Add your comments below.

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