A Texas-based encrypted email service recently revealed to be used by Edward Snowden -- Lavabit -- announced yesterday it was shutting itself down in order to avoid complying with what it perceives as unjust secret US court orders to provide government access to its users' content.
"After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations," the company's founder, Ladar Levinson, wrote in a statement to users posted on the front page of its website. He said the US directive forced on his company "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." He chose the latter.
CNET's Declan McCullagh smartly speculates that Lavabit was served "with [a] federal court order to intercept users' (Snowden?) passwords" to allow ongoing monitoring of emails; specifically: "the order can also be to install FedGov-created malware." After challenging the order in district court and losing -- all in a secret court proceeding, naturally - Lavabit shut itself down to avoid compliance while it appeals to the Fourth Circuit.
This morning, Silent Circle, a US-based secure online communication service, followed suit by shutting its own encrypted email service. Although it said it had not yet been served with any court order, the company, in a statement by its founder, internet security guru Phil Zimmerman, said: "We see the writing on the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now."
What is particularly creepy about the Lavabit self-shutdown is that the company is gagged by law even from discussing the legal challenges it has mounted and the court proceeding it has engaged. In other words, the American owner of the company believes his Constitutional rights and those of his customers are being violated by the US Government, but he is not allowed to talk about it. Just as is true for people who receive National Security Letters under the Patriot Act, Lavabit has been told that they would face serious criminal sanctions if they publicly discuss what is being done to their company. Thus we get hostage-message-sounding missives like this: