Lavabit LLC Owner/Operator, Ladar Levison Shuts Down Encrypted Email Service

When  our staff at YouThink What heard about the bravery exhibited by Ed Snowden, the former National Security Agency, (NSA), intelligence analyst cum whistleblower who is currently reported as living under temporary political asylum  somewhere in Russia,  we concluded his valiant actions could only bring “heat” on anyone who had a relationship, either business, social or romantic with him; we believed from the start such persons or businesses should  expect to be the subject of investigation,  extremely close scrutiny by one or several of those government alphabet agencies.

From published reports we know the NSA has “reached out and touched” Snowden’s parents, his girlfriend and now the company reported to have been assisting Snowden in getting his encrypted email messages to Glenn Greenwald, the American constitutional legal expert who is also a journalist who writes for the British news online site The Guardian; family,  friends, and loved ones from secret locations around the world has abruptly shutdown.

Lavabit is was an an email service that claims claimed to provide better privacy and security than favored free, web-based email services like Yahoo, or Gmail and others.

The owner-operator of the service, Ladar Levison has chosen to suspend service

to his customers due to pressure “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” his business.

Latest reports indicate at least one other encrypted message service, Silent Circle, is shuttering its Silent Mail email service. Seems after Lavabit secure email service  closed down Thursday, Phil Zimmerman, president and co-founder of Silent Circle encrypted communications company, has, in his own words, ” seen the writing on the wall” following the disclosures made by Ladar Levison of Lavabit.

Silent Circle offers other services, Silent Phone and Silent Text; they are completely end-to-end encrypted; only the users hold the keys needed to decrypt the messages, so even if the company were compelled to produce evidence in court, it wouldn’t have access to its customers’ communications in a usable form. The  protocols used for email — SMTP, POP3, and IMAP — are unable to be secured. Thus the management team found themselves with a difficult decision: continue providing Silent Mail, which offers similar privacy protections as other secure email services, or ditch the service altogether.

Silent Circle says no  government requests for data have to date been received,  they simply did not wish to wait until the federales came calling for its customers’ emails.

“We’d considered phasing the service out, continuing service for existing customers, and a variety of other things up until today. It is always better to be safe than sorry, and with your safety we decided that the worst decision is always no decision.” ~ Silent Circle Blog message to its customers.

According to The Verge Silent Circle provided the following statement from Chief Technical Officer Jon Callas, author of the  notice announcing the company’s decision to suspend service:

“We give very strong security guarantees about Silent Phone and Silent Text, and every time we talked about key management, metadata, and so on, had to have a little asterisk footnote that essentially said, “Except for Silent Mail.” Email is different. It’s also useful, which is why we offered as a service.

We have had discussions about it from the very start, and our discussions about whether we should have it at all have been picking up speed. What to do about it was an agenda item on our next BoD meeting, even. We had also planned changes in our offerings to be announced next week.

When we saw the sad news about Lavabit, we had discussions about what that means for us and anyone else running a secure email system. Ladar Levison is a great guy and his team does fantastic work. Something happened there. We can but guess, but there are a lot of obvious guesses.

Our own discussion took on a new urgency. After debate and discussion, we decided that it’s best for everyone if we just close it down, delete all the mail, and wipe the disks. It’s drastic, but whatever made Lavabit have to close down can’t be good for us or our subscribers, whom we have pledged to protect. Of all the choices we had, that seemed the least bad.”

If you’ve washed or dry-cleaned Ed’s laundry, cleaned his house, rung up his groceries, served him food at a restaurant, changed the oil in his car, or taught him how to read, be wary.  You may be a person of interest.

Fasten your seat-belts as you stay tuned folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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