Private email service Lavabit chooses to quit rather than submit

Lavabit, a private email service currently best known for being NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's communication medium of choice, has suddenly and unexpectedly announced it's shutting down, hinting it would rather do that than comply with something it claims it's not even allowed to talk about. Ladar Levison, owner and operator, on the Lavabit home page:

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.

And this bit at the end:

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.

Apple, which we use for iCloud mail, has physical ties to the U.S. Google, which we use for Gmail, has physical ties to the U.S. Microsoft for Hotmail/Outlook, Yahoo! and the list goes on. Companies not shutting down and not leaving the U.S. may very well be capitulating to demands that violate the basic tenants of trust and privacy, two of the cornerstones of any consumer relationship.

Then again, which country could any such company go where they wouldn't be subject to the same spying, foreign and domestic? The NSA is by no means the only signal intelligence service in the world, and likely not the agency with the freest reign to surveil both their own citizens and others.

Privacy likely died the day the internet came online. Operating in shadows, however, leads to rot. Hopefully more information comes to light, so everyone can make better informed decisions, either way.

Source: Lavabit, thanks G!

Anthony Casella
  • Many other countries are doing the exact same things. Lots of people like to rag on the US whenever anything negative happens to it. This company is naive if they think that the US is the main problem. Look at The Pirate Bay. They stayed in countries where they though they would be safe from issues and yet they have to continuously move to keep the door open. (Not the exact same situation, I know).
  • Absolutely. Updated. Thanks!
  • "which country could any such company go where they wouldn't be subject to the same spying, foreign and domestic" What other countries are using an equivalent of National Security Letters to obtain private information without a warrant, and with a legal requirement that the company can't even tell that they provided info to the government?
  • The Pirate Bay was something illegal. I don't think Lavabit is (was?) illegal.
  • The Pirate Bay is illegal by some countries laws, not others. Do I think developers deserve to get paid? Sorta. I think that anyone that develops a good product, be it a movie, game, book, tv show, whatever, deserves to be paid for their effort. I even don't mind if they make what is ridiculous amounts of money for some of us. What I can't stand is crappy movies that have great and heavily edited trailers in order to sucker you into a movie theatre. What I can't stand is a game that I just paid 60 bucks for either sucking, or being finished in one play session. What I can't stand is paying full price to basically be a beta tester. I think every app, movie, game, book, etc., should have a certain preview time. Make it 15 minutes or something. This allows you to know if you want to make the purchase, or at least gives you a better idea. I have spent several hundred, if not a couple of thousand, dollars in the various app stores since 2009 and I don't mind paying more. I just want quality apps, quality movies, and quality books.
  • Why different rules for digital assets (music, movies, software) versus physical goods (house, car, TV etc.)? Why should consumer expect to "try" before buying?
  • I don't see your point. Lavabit is (was?) a service. Pay for one month. Don't like it? Don't renew. It's probably the best way to make business at the moment.
  • I wonder if hush mail is still secure Sent from the iMore App
  • Just kidding Sent from the iMore App
  • Just checked. Hushmail has a clause about complying with the laws of British Columbia, Canada and something about not being permitted to disclose to the user when a government order is issued for user data.
  • The Unites States is fully controlled by corporations, to maximize profit they see the people as nothing more than a revenue stream. Anyone who attempts do something may hurt the profits of the banks, the military industrial complex, agribusiness, etc. Will have the full force of the US government come down upon them. Some call this fascism. The dev might as well move to another country and start a new business, freedom, democracy, liberty, etc. It's gone forever. The Constitution, freedom of speech? Yea we lost those things long ago, most people went about their daily lives, not giving a shit, now it's too late.
  • US was never a democracy and how is freedom of speech gone? Also, I could make an argument that the government is more controlled by fear of the vote. Most choices aren't made solely on what is good for the country, but partial by what will offend the least number of people. Often times, not doing anything is what offends the least.
  • "how is freedom of speech gone" How is it not gone when the government can come to you and order you to do something AND arrest you if you talk about it?
  • Give me an example. And BTW, freedom of speech never gave anyone the ability to say absolutely anything absolutely whenever.
  • The article above is an example. The many reported cases of federal agents allegedly requiring companies/entities to hand over records based on a FISA order, including being ordered not to talk about it. Here's another example: "The court order expressly bars Verizon from disclosing to the public either the existence of the FBI's request for its customers' records, or the court order itself. " From Of course freedom of speech does not give you the ability to say anything, anywhere. You can't shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater and seek First Amendment protection. I don't see how that is REMOTELY the same as ordering an email provider to hand over private records and ordering the company to not say ANYTHING about it. How does it protect national security to keep it a secret that they asked the company for data?
  • Many court orders/records are sealed. I don't see how this is against your freedom of speech. Also, I am the type of person who thinks business shouldn't be given a lot of the same rights as individuals (like they are today). I don't think a company has freedom of speech.
  • "I don't think a company has freedom of speech." Are you saying the guy who owns the company doesn't have the same right to free speech as a guy who doesn't own a company? Court records are generally sealed to protect individuals involved in the case - usually at the request of the person being protected. Why should the FBI or the NSA be protected from the general public in cases where the knowledge of what they are doing does NOT affect national security and it also does not compromise the safety or personal information of anyone involved?
  • Most big companies aren't owned by a "guy". And when it comes to the "guy", he/she/they don't have the freedom of speech to tell everyone what the government is doing in the name of national defense, whether they agree with it or not. Anyways, I do think that these programs do help with national security, though they do inherently bring the chance (and likely hood) that some level of abuse will happen at some point. A government can't release information about how it spies because it hurts the ability for the program to work. Therefore, I do believe that releasing info would hurt national security, though I can understand the wants of people to know what their government is doing to them.
  • Thanks for posting that. That's a really good article.
  • here are the top 3 Lavabit alternatives
  • Dang, that sucks. Do you happen to know of any alternatives (those with apps would be a big plus)?
  • Silent Circle just closed up shop, as well.
  • Time to start using public key encryption for all your sensitive emails.