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Encrypted email service Lavabit forced to shutdown amidst US surveillance ‘creep’

21st Century Wire says…

What people want is to know that the government isn’t snooping on their email.”
– Ladar Levison 

Ladar Levison – owner and operator of the encrypted email service Lavabit, elected to shut down due to concerns over future privacy violations by the NSA. Levison explicitly created the encrypted email provider as an antidote to the hyper-surveillance state that has been built since 9/11.

Levison announced his decision on Lavabit.com without disclosing a specific reason for the shut down, opting to deliver a cryptic message of his own:

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,”

Silent Circle, another encrypted provider, also announced it to was shuttering due to the US spy-state that has increased in size and scope. COO Vic Hyder, had this to say about the matter:

We decided to do it before that knock came to us. Before we received a letter and were forced to either be complicit in what we say is an invasion of privacy or shut-down. So we did it preemptively.”

Continuing, Hyder clarified the decision:

We made a deliberate decision. It was a difficult one, but with the threats that are out there towards email, the process itself is just inherently not as secure as our standards require.”

Just today, The Washington Post revealed that The NSA broke privacy rules thousands of times each year since their 2008 expansion, reportedly from an internal audit.

Is it any wonder why public trust in government agencies is at an all-time low?

RT News takes a deeper look at this story below…

Spooked off the Net: Owner of Lavabit email blames US surveillance for closure

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Russia Today

“Our government can order us to do things that are morally and ethically wrong, order us to spy on other Americans and then order us — using the threat of imprisonment — to keep it all secret.”

Ladar Levison has more to say about Uncle Sam nowadays than what you can fit in your inbox. The 32-year-old owner and operator behind the email service Lavabit has spent practically a decade putting together a product so highly encrypted and secure that its customers included privacy-minded clientele like human rights workers and NSA leaker Edward Snowden. At least it did up until last week.

Levison never quite made a name for himself over Lavabit, or anything else in the realm of tech for that matter. All of that changed on Thursday, however, when he announced abruptly on Lavabit.com that he had shut down the site without notice, sending around 410,000 customers scrambling to create new accounts elsewhere.

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,” he wrote on the website.

And just like that, Levison turned the lights off and walked away from the homegrown business that has been his brainchild since he drafted up an idea for a super-encrypted email provider in the wake of the post-9/11 PATRIOT Act. Nine years ago, Levison launched Lavabit to help keep the government from encroaching on the communications of concerned Americans. Almost a decade down the road, though, Uncle Sam has stepped down on Levison’s throat so hard that now he can’t speak at all.

The statement uploaded by Lavabit owner Ladar Levison on Thursday, August 8

The statement uploaded by Lavabit owner Ladar Levison on Thursday, August 8th:

Let’s be clear,” Levison told RT’s Andrew Blake in a phone interview this week. “I would love to tell you everything that’s happened to me over the last six weeks. I’m just legally prevented from doing so.”

Levison may have likely violated that rule already, and said he’s gotten into hot water with his lawyer over last week’s public statement. The very predicament he has found himself in is so peculiar, though, that watching his words with that regard is likely the least of his worries.

Although he can’t comment on it — not to confirm, deny or admit anything — Levison is likely involved in what could be the biggest privacy case of a generation. Nowhere has he officially said that he’s entwined in any sort of litigation, but on his Lavabit statement last week he wrote, “We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.” That sentence, he said, was likely more than he was supposed to admit.

Contrary to popular belief, I am not trying to go to jail,” he told RT. “I’m trying to make a difference, but I’m not trying to do it from behind laws.”

Levison can’t admit he’s received a gag-order preventing him from discussing why he voluntarily shut down his site, because doing so what admit such a gag-order — and the legal justification behind it — even exists.

What is known, however, is that Levison and anyone with a secure email account is in the midst of what has been called the New Crypto Wars. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and other agencies have insisted that encrypted communications are increasingly keeping them from solving crimes and catching terrorists, and the recent disclosures attributed by Edward Snowden made it clear that Uncle Sam isn’t unopposed to learning more about Americans. In fact, one recently leaked NSA document attributed to Snowden revealed that the federal government has given itself the power to legally intercept and indefinitely hold onto emails solely because they are encrypted.

In recent weeks privacy advocates have increasingly made calls for email users to start using encryption to evade surveillance, meanwhile a just unearthed legal brief filed by Google gives the indication that anything ever sent to or from a Gmail account isn’t private.

Ladar Levison (Photo from www.facebook.com/KingLadar)Ladar Levison (Photo from www.facebook.com/KingLadar)

Those same Snowden disclosures helped spark a domestic, then worldwide debate about online privacy, and Levison said his site saw a huge surge in traffic after a leaked email tied the former NSA contractor to a Lavabit account. After a mysterious six weeks he can only allude to, however, Levison pulled the plug last Thursday and is now insisting everyone reconsider where they go for email.

Levison won’t admit that the government can decrypt even highly secure emails. He doesn’t rule out the possibility that the National Security Agency has developed the technology necessary to do such, though, and has made repeated pleas for American email users to take their accounts of the US.

I think the amount of information that they’re collecting on people that they have no right to collect information on is the most alarming thing,” he told RT. “I mean, the Fourth Amendment is supposed to guarantee that our government will only conduct surveillance on people in which it has a probable suspicion or evidence that they are committing some crime, and that evidence has been reviewed by a judge and signed off by a judge before that surveillance begins. And if there’s anything alarming, it’s that now that’s all being done after the fact. Everything’s being recorded, and then a judge can after the fact say it’s okay to go look at the information.”

What people want is to know that the government isn’t snooping on their email,” Levison told RT.

Within eight hours of Lavabit’s shut-down, competing encryption providers Silent Circle announced it was closing its email service effective almost immediately. In Silent Circle’s case, its administrators say it didn’t receive a subpoena or a National Security Letter and its often-attached gag-orders. “We saw the writing in the wall,” they announced Thursday night on their own website.

We made a deliberate decision. It was a difficult one, but with the threats that are out there towards email, the process itself is just inherently not as secure as our standards require,” Silent Circle COO Vic Hyder told RT earlier this week.

Lavabit “are the ones who got the knock on the door,” Hyder said, but Silent Circle decided to cease operations “before that knock came to us.”

We decided to do it before that knock came to us. Before we received a letter and were forced to either be complicit in what we say is an invasion of privacy or shut-down. So we did it preemptively.”

National Security Letters like what Levison is rumored to have received compel third-party companies such as banks, telephone companies and Internet Service Providers to give the government the private data of its customers while mandating that they never one speak of the matter to the very parties involved. The PATRIOT Act expanded the ability for the FBI to hand these letters out, and just in recent time has only a few high-level recipients have even revealed vague statistics about NSLs. Last year the FBI issued 15,229 NSLs, and Google admitted they received anywhere from zero to 999 of them.

You’ll notice that we’re reporting numerical ranges rather than exact numbers,” Google legal director Richard Salgado wrote in a blog post when the info came out in April. “This is to address concerns raised by the FBI, Justice Department and other agencies that releasing exact numbers might reveal information about investigations.”

Earlier this year the US District Court of Northern California said the FBI must stop issuing NSLs, but that’s not the only way personal emails can wind up on a server in Washington and not a warehouse owned by Google or, say, Lavabit. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court can also sign off on letters compelling third-parties to hand over information, and like NSLs there is little oversight in how those decisions are made. Snowden’s disclosures have helped rekindle a conversation about that judiciary panel that has previously been more of a fringe debate held only by civil libertarians. Even as information about these policies go mainstream, though, Levison said they’re still largely secretive.

No protections in our current body of law to keep the government from compelling us to provide the information necessary to decrypt,” Levison told CNET shortly before speaking to RT. When asked by Andrew Blake if he’d like to elaborate, he suggested any further comment could be crossing the line of what he legally can and can’t say.

I don’t think Obama’s administration has admitted the whole and complete truth about its surveilling methods to the American public or Congress,” Levison told RT, “and i think any sort of oversight by a kangaroo court is exactly that: a rubber stamp.”

Read more at RT

READ MORE SNOWDEN NEWS AT: 21st Century Wire Snowden Files