Lavabit founder comments on closure of encrypted email service

By on August 12, 2013, 10:30 AM
nsa, email, security, privacy, edward snowden, lavabit, silent circle

We previously reported that Lavabit, the encrypted email service that recently gained recognition for its use by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, had been shut down. Thursday's decision to shutter the service was supposedly caused by pressure from the US government and its requests for the company to divulge user messages and other related information. New reports suggest that the company may have also been served with a gag order, seeing as Lavabit founder Ladar Levinson carefully chose his words as he spoke to the media.

Levinson told Forbes in an interview, “It's not my place to decide whether an investigation is just, but the government has the legal authority to force you to do things you're uncomfortable with. The fact that I can't talk about this is as big a problem as what they asked me to do.”

According to The Guardian, Lavabit isn’t the only small business failing to comply with the government’s wishes. Another secure email service dubbed Silent Circle also announced on Thursday that its popular “Silent Mail” service would be brought to a close. Unlike Lavabit, it would appear that Silent Circle wasn’t actually presented with a court order, but decided to shut down the service as a purely pre-emptive measure. 

“We have not received subpoenas, warrants, security letters, or anything else by any government, and this is why we are acting now… It is always better to be safe than sorry, and with your safety we decided that in this case the worst decision is no decision."

Silent Circle reassured users that the “Silent Text” and “Silent Phone” services would still be offered, and that there is no threat of any metadata being collected as a result of these features.

Based on the information provided, one might think Levinson is using Lavabit as a way to protect criminals; however, it would appear that this is not actually the case. Although Levinson values privacy, he has no issues cooperating with the government. ”I’m not trying to protect people from law enforcement. If information is unencrypted and law enforcement has a court order, I hand it over,” Levinson told Forbes. His dislike for the government instead stems from how the methods used to conduct investigations are kept secret.

Levinon's lawyer, Jesse Binnall, also believes that the way in which his client must tiptoe around the issue is rather "ridiculous". He explained, "In America, we're not supposed to worry about watching our words like this when we're talking to the press."

Levinson does intend to appeal the government’s requests and is currently accepting donations to go towards his company's legal fees. As of Saturday morning, his fund had already reached $90,000. In the meantime, though, Levinson doesn’t seem too eager to return to the realm of email services. “If you knew what I knew about email, you might not use it either,” he added.

User Comments: 4

Got something to say? Post a comment
Guest said:

Winegum issue - lodged again!

1 person liked this | MilwaukeeMike said:

New reports suggest that the company may have also been served with a gag order, seeing as Lavabit founder Ladar Levinson carefully chose his words as he spoke to the media.

@cliffordcooley - you were right about this, and it's BS. It's one thing to make an email provider conform to the laws passed by congress, even if we don't like them. It's another to make them keep their mouth shut about it. Obama will probably just consider this another 'phony scandal'

Usually when people talk about the US being a 'nanny state' they mean it's because of how much the govt will take care of you. It's quickly also starting to mean how closely we are watched.

1 person liked this | Darth Shiv Darth Shiv said:

"His dislike for the government instead stems from how the methods used to conduct investigations are kept secret."

This not only shows the level of US Govt lack of transparency (bordering on corruption and win at all costs) but doesn't solve anything. These services will just go overseas. The US can continue to abuse their power. Once they push too far, what will stop other countries from creating their own master DNS? Who says they haven't indeed done or looked into this already? The rest of the world doesn't have to pander to US self-interests unchecked. They don't own the internet.

Guest said:

I would like to suggest the 'Gagging' order was enforced to prevent him from revealing details, not

about their Demands, but about, say, their 'requirements'.

That they really required, was the ability to process emails prior to their Server placement; That they required Snooping equipment to be installed, and thus, would not desire these details to be made public.

It would seem obvious that they find it difficult to easily acquire the details that they demand, so

require some sort of 'Back door' facility; This has been suggested elsewhere, that processors

such as Intel have this in there microcode OS; May I even suggest that Finger Print entry (Apple), could be logged, for some future surveillance?

Load all comments...

Add New Comment

TechSpot Members
Login or sign up for free,
it takes about 30 seconds.
You may also...
Get complete access to the TechSpot community. Join thousands of technology enthusiasts that contribute and share knowledge in our forum. Get a private inbox, upload your own photo gallery and more.