Encrypted Email Service Refuses ‘to Become Complicit in Crimes Against the American People’; Can Never Be Safe From NSA Snooping (+video)

By Mathew J. Schwartz

Encrypted email service provider Lavabit is shutting down, but a gag order prevents the company from detailing exactly what triggered that business decision.

Ladar Levison, the owner and operator of Texas-based Lavabit, said in a statement that his hand was forced after six weeks of legal wrangling and two attempts by him to squash the gag order, both of which were rejected by a judge. As a result, he’s not at liberty to publicly reveal exactly what’s going on.

“I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly 10 years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit,” he said. “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.”

Lavabit had promised that it would be an “e-mail service that never sacrifices privacy for profits” and “only release private information if legally compelled by the courts in accordance with the U.S. Constitution.” The service backed up those claims by storing only encrypted versions of emails on its servers, which could only then be decrypted using a user’s passphrase, which the service didn’t store.

Lavabit’s closure led startup company Silent Circle to announce Thursday that it would shutter Silent Mail, which is its encrypted email service. “We see the writing [on] 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,” said Silent Circle CTO Jon Callas in a blog post.

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By Julie Bort

Silent Circle, a company founded by Internet Hall of famer Phil Zimmermann, famous privacy expert Jon Callas, and a couple of Navy Seals, has shut down its secure email service.

They shuttered it because email can’t be secured in a way that would prevent a government agency like the NSA from snooping, the founders said.

All email messages “leak metadata” they say. That information includes data about who you are talking to and where you are. That info is visible even if the message itself is encrypted.

“E-mail as we know it today is fundamentally broken from a privacy perspective,” Callas says.

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