Customers of the secure email provider, Lavabit.com, woke up on Wednesday and could not access their accounts. At the time, the site’s service availability page stated that the service was down for maintenance.
As the day progressed, the service was still not restored. Again, customers woke on Thursday to the same message: that the service was down for maintenance.
Well, now the service has been shut down.
Lavabit was a great service. It’s mission statement on privacy and ethics had read:
Privacy. Lavabit adamantly protects the privacy of its users. Lavabit will only release private information if legally compelled by the courts in accordance with the United States Constitution.
Ethics. Lavabit employees are committed to making the right decisions even if they’re not the easiest or most profitable.
Just moments ago, the site posted the following notice was posted by the founder and CEO:
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
While it is impossible to say what really happened, some inferences can be made. Mr. Levison gave us some clues in his prepared statement.
“I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from … Lavabit.”
Some authority left unnamed, but presumably a department of the United States Federal Government gave Mr. Levison an ultimatum. Let us into your servers or we’re shutting you down.
Friends, this is happening. Many people have said “It could never happen here.” Well, it’s happening. We are approaching the complete dominance of a totalitarian state. And the rate is accelerating.
“After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations.”
Mr. Levison’s promise to his customers was that their email was secure and that the service was very privacy oriented. In his soul searching he decided it would be better to shut his baby down than to betray the trust of the many thousands of customers who put their trust and faith in Lavabit.
While I am saddened that Lavabit is no more, I hold a lot of respect for Mr. Levison. Many people in his position would have went along with the evil request. I hold in very high esteem people who stand in the face of evil and do the right thing, even when the right thing is difficult, painful, and even devastating.
“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.”
Mr. Levison is under some kind of gag order. From who? We don’t know.
“I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”
We are left with a warning. If you care about your privacy, you better not trust any company in the United States – Even if the company claims to protect your privacy. Lavabit was a great privacy oriented service and they were forced to shut down today.
It just so happens that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is purported to have used the service in the past. Mr. Snowden, a 30 year old computer systems professional has had to flee the country he was born and raised in because he exposed the extensive government spy program target at domestic citizens whereby nearly all communications are collected and stored for later analysis.
But what about the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Welcome to the Stasi States of Amerika. You’ve been here a while, but you had no idea. You are now no longer allowed to communicate unless the government can read or listen to it.
We already know that all domestic phone calls are recorded. We already know that most commercial email servers are monitored. And now the government is shutting down email servers that do not capitulate to the terms of the surveillance state.
Soon, you will know that you are being monitored by the simple fact that you are allowed to talk at all.
RIP, Lavabit. And a sincere thank you to Ladar Levison for the wonderful service he developed and also for caring enough about the future of humanity to do the right thing: NOT CAPITULATING to the impotent cowards that are running the United States Government into the ground.
You can help by donating to the Lavabit Defense Fund here, and by telling others.