It’s no secret (anymore) that the NSA
has been using a secret court to demand data from a number of Internet companies, including email
providers. One company, Lavabit, is refusing to comply by enacting what is essentially the online equivalent of passive resistance--it’s shutting down.
What’s interesting about Lavabit is that it’s a secure, privacy-conscious web-based email service--and it was NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s preferred email provider, according to Wired.
Edward Snowden (Credit: The Guardian)
Lavabit owner and operator Ladar Levison posted this message on Lavabit’s site
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
He doesn’t say what exactly those “crimes” are, but you can infer that he’s probably talking about a data request. Such a request is likely coming from the NSA, and Edward Snowden’s emails are an obvious target of the request. This is speculation, of course, but unless this is all a smokescreen by Levison, something big must be happening to make him shut down his email service.
One odd bit from all of this is that he apparently shut Lavabit shut down without first telling his 350,000 or so users. Predictably, many of those users are angry, as they didn’t get a chance to migrate their email first. (Insert non sequitur diatribe about using web-based services here.)
In any case, the Lavabit shutdown is a strange case, and whether this is an overwrought attempt by Levison to gain attention or a line-in-the-sand stand against a government overstepping its bounds regarding its citizens’ privacy, it’s quite an event.