Police state: Snowden’s email provider, Lavabit, shuts down to resist U.S. government invasion

Amy Davidson writes: Not every suspension-of-service notice for an e-mail company comes with a link to a legal-defense fund. Ladar Levison, the owner and operator of Lavabit, whose clients, reportedly, have included Edward Snowden, made it sound today as though he could use the help. “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,” Levison wrote in a note posted on his site.

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.

As Kevin Poulsen and others have pointed out, our collective experience has prepared us to guess what is going on here: Levison got either a national-security letter “or a full blown search or eavesdropping warrant.” In the weeks since the Guardian and Washington Post first began publishing stories with Snowden’s documents, the picture of the National Security Agency’s domestic-surveillance practices that’s come together is different from the one most everyone held before we’d ever heard Snowden’s name. And it has left the Administration’s explanations of what it does and doesn’t do looking pretty spotty, and at times just false.

Rebecca Greenfield adds: Because of the type of encryption Lavabit uses, peer-to-peer, even if the government intercepted Snowden’s emails sent using Lavabit, it wouldn’t be able to read them without his encryption key. If the NSA was only after those old emails, shutting down Lavabit wouldn’t do them much good anyway. But if the government demanded that Lavabit install a method for monitoring its users communications, as in an ongoing data collection program like PRISM, shutting down would be a drastic-but-effective way to avoid participation. So far, only one company is known to have challenegd a FISA order of that kind: Yahoo, and it lost.

If Lavabit doesn’t exist, then the NSA can’t monitor it. Of course, that just means Snowden will have to find another ultra-secure email provider. Maybe he should consider a company with zero American ties, per Levison’s urging:

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.

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3 thoughts on “Police state: Snowden’s email provider, Lavabit, shuts down to resist U.S. government invasion

  1. hquain

    Startlingly, it’s not an exaggeration to say that we’ve essentially lost the right to private communication. And we won’t be getting it back any time soon.

    ‘Unbelievable’ is the word that comes to mind, but mouthing it makes one feel naive.

    Perhaps the revelation is that totalitarianism is not something that must be enforced by a grim coercive system, as was believed by both adepts and opponents throughout much of the last century, but instead is the natural outcome of institutional dynamics, something like monopolies in ‘free’ markets.

  2. La vérité

    This administration is using new tactics….paralysing a person’s life, partially…… i.e. slow torture…….of a different kind……
    Obsession with “Security” and Vindictiveness on the part of Commander in Chief will make the administration go to any lengths to punish whoever gets in it way to exercise its power accumulated without the citizenry’s consent, in secrecy.

  3. Paul Woodward

    I think that’s right. I suspect that a lot of people imagine that a totalitarian state requires martial law, summary executions, political dissidents getting dragged off the streets and thrown into labor camps, and all the rest of it. But of course, none of that is necessary if people give their freedoms away with little to no objection.

    A tiny email provider shuts down — but we still have gmail — so who cares. The NSA is collecting all my data? Oh that’s good of them — I’ve never been bothered keeping backups so maybe they’ll be able to restore my Facebook and Twitter accounts if they somehow get shut off.

    The problem is that lots of people are less concerned about broad and somewhat abstract freedoms than they are the freedom to choose between iPhone and Android, or HBO and Showtime.

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