In a very ominous development, two US based secure email services, Silent Circle and Lavabit, have suddenly shut down their services rather that submit to demands from the NSA that would comprise their customers’ privacy.
Lavabit is believed to be a service used by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, and in the face of a US court order demanding cooperation in spying on its customers, has decided instead to suspend service to its 350,000 customers, pending an appeal. Mikko Hypponen, chief research officer at online security company F-Secure, told the Guardian newspaper that ’from what Lavabit said, I assume they were asked to put in a back door to give access, or weaken their encryption, and they didn’t want to do that.’
Lader Levison, owner and operator of Lavabit LLC has stated on its website that,
“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.”
Edward Snowden has described the decision as ‘inspiring’ and questioned why the big internet players such as Google and Facebook ‘aren’t fighting for our interests the same way small businesses are.’
Privacy advocates have express deep concern over the closure, with Kurt Opsahl from the Electronic Frontier Foundation commenting that ‘I am unaware of any situation in which a service provider chose to shut down rather than comply with a court order they felt violated the constitution’.
In a move prompted by Lavabit’s closure, Silent Circle announced that it was closing its encrypted cloud based email service Silent Mail ‘to prevent spying’.
“We’ve been thinking about this for some time, whether it was a good idea at all. Today, another secure email provider, Lavabit, shut down their system lest they ‘be complicit in crimes against the American people’,” said Jon Callas, CTO of the company, “We see the writing the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down ‘Silent Mail’ now. We have not received subpoenas, warrants, security letters, or anything else by any government, and this is why we are acting now.”
Silent Circle continues to operate its ‘Silent Phone’ and ‘Silent Text’ services (mentioned in our Ultimate Privacy Guide), which provide secure end-to-end encryption of VoIP calls and Instant Messaging, where ‘we don’t have the encrypted data and we don’t collect metadata about your conversations’.