Edward Snowden’s favorite email service gives up the ghost

Secure Webmail provider Lavabit has elected to shut down rather than hand over data to the US government.

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So why would our government’s three-letter agencies be so keen to get to Lavabit’s servers if they couldn’t access the messages? My best guess is that they tried to force Levison to allow the spooks some kind of backdoor access to the content of his customers’ emails, and given the state of our current laws, he had no choice but to comply or shut down.

Lavabit’s sudden suicide left a lot of angry customers in the lurch, judging by the comments on the service’s Facebook page. I am guessing (again) he had to act quickly or subject all of his users’ email to federal scrutiny.

Of course, all we have for all of this is Levison’s word, notes Jonathan Ezor, director of the Touro Institute for Business, Law & Technology.

“We on the outside have no way of evaluating his statements that the data was encrypted in the first place or that he had no way to decrypt it. As long as those archives exist, he may not be able to stop the government from trying to compel him to give up his encryption keys. Then he’d have to decide if he’d rather suffer the consequences of not complying.

Any time you’re relying on third-party encryption, you’re at the mercy of the strength of the third party’s promises. Lesson learned here: If you want to make sure something is encrypted, you need to encrypt it yourself.”

Levison went on to write he plans “to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company.”

Even then, we may never have answers as to what data the spooks wanted from Lavabit, or why. But the national security circus appears to have achieved new levels of absurdity. At this point, it seems, the ‘war on terror’ has become a war on our civil liberties. Lavabit and its customers are only the most recent casualties. They won't be the last.

Update: My esteemed colleague Declan McCullagh of CNET speculates that "It likely wasn't a national security letter (NSL) because those are limited in scope and don't apply to prospective surveillance, meaning a shutdown wouldn't accomplish anything." Any other guesses? Post them below in the comments.

Got a question about social media or privacy? TY4NS blogger Dan Tynan may have the answer (and if not, he’ll make something up). Follow him on Twitter: @tynanwrites. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-to’s, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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