Secure Email Provider Linked to Edward Snowden Shuts Down

Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked secret data on a series of widespread NSA domestic spying programs, has led authorities on a hunt for any and all of his communications online. That hunt has now led to the sudden shutting down of two large private email providers, one of which may have actually been in use by Snowden.

Lavabit Shuts Down, Silent Circle Destroys Files Rather than Turn Over Data

Lavabit had been an email provider that offered its users a way to maintain privacy by encrypting emails, and not storing their passwords. It had vowed never to turn over user information unless compelled by the government to do so. In a strongly worded post on the Lavabit website, owner Ladar Levison hinted that he was shutting down the service in a bid to protect the US Constitution.

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."

Levison went on to say that he could not go into specifics about what had been going on over the last six weeks, but that he would appeal his situation to the Court of Appeals. Lavabit has been linked to Snowden via an email he sent to Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch in which he asked her to come to the Sheremetyevo airport in Russia for a press conference. Lokshina posted the message to her Facebook profile.

What Levison couldn't say was that he may have received a court order to have his servers searched by the government. Mike Janke, chief executive of a company called Silent Circle, that also shut down its service this week, was apparently under no government pressure to do anything, but his company shut down its email service anyway to avoid having to face any such prospect, he wrote in a blog post.

Writing is on the Wall

Silent Circle continues to run its private phone, video and text services, but after hearing about Lavabit, the company will shutter its private email service, Silent Mail.

"Silent Mail has always been something of a quandary for us," Janke wrote in a Silent Circle blog post.

Email that uses standard Internet protocols cannot have the same security guarantees that real time communications has... We see the writing on the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now.

Janke said his company had not gotten any subpoenas, warrants or security letters from the government. The service had been around for less than a year, but Lavabit had been in operation since 2004. The quick reaction by a company like Silent Circle shows the immediate chilling effect the Lavabit situation can cause. This is exactly why companies like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have spoken out against widespread government surveillance.

EFF has called on the government to at least release the legal authority asserted in the Lavabit case so more people can take part in the growing debate over warrentless NSA surveillance.

Image Caption: Merydolla / Shutterstock