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.