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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Lavabit privacy row: second email service closes 'to prevent spying'

Lavabit two American companies which provided encrypted email services – one to the NSA fugitive Edward Snowden – have abruptly shut down the service, apparently following US government pressure to let it read users' messages.

Lavabit, which is believed to have been used by Snowden and which claimed to have 350,000 customers, closed after apparently rejecting a US government court order to cooperate in surveillance on its customers by allowing some form of access to the encrypted messages on its servers.

Its founder Ladar Levison wrote on the company's website: "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."

Snowden – whose whereabouts are still unclear – told Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald that Lavabit's decision to close rather than provide access to user content was "inspiring" and asked why internet giants such as Google and Facebook "aren't fighting for our interests the same way small businesses are."

Lavabit is an email service founded in 2004 that suspended operations in August 2013. It is owned and operated by Ladar Levison.


Connection to Edward Snowden

Lavabit received media attention in July 2013 when it was revealed that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden was using the Lavabit email address edsnowden@lavabit.com to email human rights lawyers and activists to a press conference during his confinement at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow.


Suspension

On August 8, 2013, Lavabit suspended its operations, and the email service log-in page was replaced by a message from the owner and operator Ladar Levison. The New Yorker suggested that the suspension might be related to the National Security Agency’s "domestic-surveillance practices". Levison wrote on his site that he was legally unable to explain why he ended the service, and instead asked for donations to "fight for the Constitution" in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Wired speculated that Levison was fighting a warrant or national security letter seeking customer information under extraordinary circumstances, as Lavabit had complied with at least one routine warrant in the past. Lavabit is believed to be the first technology firm which chose to suspend/shut down its operation rather than comply with an order from the United States government to reveal information or grant access to information. Silent Circle, an encrypted email, mobile video and voice service provider, followed the example of Lavabit by discontinuing its encrypted email services.

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