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Lavabit And Silent Circle Shut Down Email Services Over US Surveillance Fears

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Lavabit says it did not want “to become complicit in crimes against the American people”, whilst Silent Circle says it saw the “writing on the wall”

Two encrypted email services, Silent Circle and Lavabit, have closed over fears of requests from the US government for their users’ data.  Whistleblower Edward Snowden is believed to have used Lavabit.

The US has roped a large number of communications providers into its PRISM surveillance programme, but many organisations have voiced their dismay at the Obama regime’s attempts to get at citizens’ personal data.

Lavabit owner Ladar Levison said he did not want “to become complicit in crimes against the American people”. He said he wanted to share the reason why he had turned Lavabit off, but  was not legally able to do so.

Lavabit: Move your data out of US

email-icon“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,” he said in a note on the Lavabit website.

“As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.

“We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed 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.”

He recommended people not to trust any US company with their data.

Silent Circle said it had seen “the writing the wall”, even though it had not received any legal requests for data from the US government. It also said email over standard protocols was not secure enough, leaking too much metadata.

“Email as we know it with SMTP, POP3, and IMAP cannot be secure,” said co-founder and CTO of Silent Circle Jon Callas.

“We’ve been debating this for weeks, and had changes planned starting next Monday. 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’s text and voice services, which promise end-to-end encryption, without any customer data stored in the US, remain open.

The company previously told TechWeekEurope of its concerns about privacy in America. According to cryptography legend and Silent Circle co-founder Phil Zimmerman, “privacy has been eroded since 9/11” in the US.

That was before all of Edward Snowden’s revelations, which exposed broad and possibly illegal surveillance of the US National Security Agency and other Western government intelligence agencies, including the UK’s GCHQ.

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