A secure email service reportedly used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has suddenly been shut down because its owner did not want to “become complicit in crimes against the American people”.
Before its website was suspended, Texas-based Lavabit described itself as “one of the most advanced [email platforms] in existence”, and said: “Here at Lavabit we take privacy and security seriously.”
In an open letter now posted on www.lavabit.com, owner Ladar Levison implied that the decision came as a result of attempts from the US government to access private users’ data, but said he was unable to discuss the details.
Mr Levison’s statement said: “I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.”
He added: “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.”
The Lavabit website has in the past described the United States government as “a dedicated attacker”, and said its secure encryption system was developed to counteract the “chilling effect” of the 2001 PATRIOT Act, which gave the FBI the power to demand information from internet service providers.
US fugitive and intelligence secrets leaker Mr Snowden, who has now been granted a year’s asylum in Russia having spent a month on the run, was reported by Russian human right campaigner Tanya Lokshina to have contacted her hours before a press conference at Moscow airport, using a Lavabit email address.
And an online database hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that someone going by the name of “Ed Snowden” registered three addresses with Lavabit over the past four years.
Mr Levison said to continue with the service would have involved becoming “complicit in crimes against the American people”, but he has also set up a legal fund in order to “fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals”.
A “favourable decision” would see Lavabit restarted, he says – suggesting that the “crimes” Mr Levison is trying to fight are those of the government gathering private data, rather than those of Mr Snowden in leaking state secrets.
The US Department of Justice has so far not commented on the proceedings.