Encrypted Email Providers Shutter Services To Protect Users from Government Snoops

from reason.com: Last week, two companies, first
Lavabit (as
noted by Scott Shackford
) and then Silent Circle, shut down
their encrypted email services abruptly and with no warning.

Lavabit’s announcement was both cryptic and frightening, with owner
Ladar Levison strongly implying that the move came to avoid
submitting to government surveillance demands.
Silent Circle 
CEO Mike Janke then explicitly stated that his firm was closing the
company’s email service without warning so the U.S. government
would have no opportunity to seize data. Both moves are sad, but
commendable, and they stand as scathing indictments of U.S. law and
officials. They also suggest that at least one industry, and its
related talent and technology, are likely to move off-shore.

Levison’s statement reads, in

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.
significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. 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.

In an interview with Democracy Now,
Levison added

I think if the American public knew what our government was
doing, they wouldn’t be allowed to do it anymore, which is why I’m
here in D.C. today speaking to you. My hope is that, you know, the
media can uncover what’s going on, without my assistance, and, you
know, sort of pressure both Congress and our efforts through the
court system to, in effect, put a cap on what it is the government
is entitled to in terms of our private communications….

There’s information that I can’t even share with my lawyer,
let alone with the American public. So if we’re talking about
secrecy, you know, it’s really been taken to the extreme. And I
think it’s really being used by the current administration to cover
up tactics that they may be ashamed of.

Check out the video interviews below:
Democracy Now interview
with Lavabit’s Ladar Levison:

with Silent Circle’s CEO Michael Janke:

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Silent Circle openly acted as a follow-on to Lavabit’s move,

Silent Circle has preemptively discontinued Silent Mail service
to prevent spying.

We designed our phone, video, and text services (Silent Phone,
Text and Eyes) to be completely end-to-end secure with all
cryptography done on the clients and our exposure to your data to
be nil. The reasons are obvious — the less of your information we
have, the better it is for you and for us.

Silent Mail has thus always been something of a quandary for us.
Email that uses standard Internet protocols cannot have the same
security guarantees that real-time communications has. There are
far too many leaks of information and metadata intrinsically in the
email protocols themselves. Email as we know it with SMTP, POP3,
and IMAP cannot be secure.

And yet, many people wanted it. Silent Mail has similar security
guarantees to other secure email systems, and with full disclosure,
we thought it would be valuable.

However, we have reconsidered this position. We’ve been thinking
about this for some time, whether it was a good idea at all.
Yesterday, another secure email provider, Lavabit, shut down their
system less they “be complicit in crimes against the American
people.” We see the writing on the wall, and we have decided that
it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail. We have not received
subpoenas, warrants, security letters, or anything else by any
government, and this is why we are acting now.

In an interview with USA Today, Silent Circle’s Janke
explained why the
plug was pulled so quickly

“If we announced it, it would have given authorities time to
file a national security letter (demanding information). We decided
to destroy it before we were asked to turn (information) over. We
had to do scorched earth.”

Silent Circle’s other products, including encrypted phone calls
and text messaging, remain in place because they leave essentially
no information for the company to surrender to government

Levison now recommends “against anyone trusting their private
data to a company with physical ties to the United States” and is
discussing restarting his service outside the country, though
probably not with himself at the helm. That’s because he fears
coming under legal pressure as a U.S. citizen unless he’s willing
to follow the example of Edward Snowden (who he praises) and leave
the country.

Silent Circle plans to reintroduce encrypted email once it can
offer a service that’s as opaque to scrutiny, revealing no
metadata, as its other offerings.

By then, somebody in a a more-privacy friendly jurisdiction will
likely be offering encrypted email products that are legally immune
to NSA orders, the FISA court and national security letters, though
available worldwide over the Internet.
That company, and
competitors, will attract talent, develop technology, and
accumulate wealth in a way that will leave American firms falling
behind. That’s not because saints hold office elsewhere, but
because at least a few countries must see more of a future in
competing with Google than with the NSA.

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