updated 09:11 pm EDT, Thu August 8, 2013
Edward Snowden's use of the service attracted federal and NSA attention
Encrypted email service Lavabit has shut down, reportedly due to pressure from the US Federal government. Citing legal fallout from National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden's use of the service during his confinement in the Moscow airport, founder Ladar Levison closed the service -- saying that a Congressional gag order prevents him from disclosing more details about what specifically led to his decision to close.
A message posted on the Lavabit homepage says that Levison has "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. After 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," Levison continued. "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."
Lavabit is "preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals." Success means that Levison can "resurrect Lavabit as an American company." The founder closes by noting that "without Congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States."
Lavabit was founded in 2004, prompted by privacy concerns about Gmail, and use of users' email content to generate advertisements and farm marketing data. Lavabit offered significant privacy protection for their users' email, including asymmetric encryption to a degree that is difficult for even intelligence agencies to crack. As of July 2013, they had about 350,000 users and offered free and paid accounts with levels of storage ranging from 128 megabytes to 8 gigabytes.