Lavabit email service shuts down abruptly, blaming US government

Bad luck if you’re one of the users (apparently PRISM whistleblower Edward Snowden is one of them) of Lavabit, the online email service designed with privacy and security in mind.

It has abruptly decided to close its doors, claiming that it has been forced to do so rather than become “complicit in crimes against the American people.”

Lavabit shutdown

Here is the company’s message in full:

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My Fellow Users,

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. 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. 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.

What’s going to happen now? 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.

This experience has taught me one very important lesson: 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.

Ladar Levison
Owner and Operator, Lavabit LLC

Defending the constitution is expensive! Help us by donating to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund here.

The message is vague about what exactly the US authorities have demanded on Lavabit, and the email firm is claiming that it is being gagged from discussing what is going on.

LavabitHowever, it wouldn’t be a surprise if anyone looking on from the outside assumes that pressure has been put on Lavabit to compromise its promise to users about privacy – perhaps requesting access to specific communications such as those of NSA leaker Snowden, or giving the authorities a backdoor into the encrypted communications of others, tapping communications to allow for easier surveillance.

It’s bad luck for anyone who was relying on the Lavabit service for their sensitive communications, as they can no longer access their emails.

However, they might view that as the least worst option in the long run rather than continuing to use a service that may become compromised.

Clearly Lavabit believes that it is serving its users best by shutting down its systems for now, until or unless it can find an alternative way out of its legal tangles.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

3 comments on “Lavabit email service shuts down abruptly, blaming US government”

  1. What they say doesn't make sense. They will already have a back up system which involves having all data being duplicated at a second site. So they could keep the service going by taking all the data and moving to servers outside US juristiction. It would be a bit of hassle they don't want to do,but it wouldn't be such a big job.
    – You'd do something like set up the new servers so people could do new mail, straight away and say to them your old mails won't yet be accessible cos we have to move them over block by block over a few days.
    – Be dead simple if you just partnered with an existing foreign mail company.
    – A running business with customers is worth money, why would you just close it down ? the cost of the work culd be booked against future profits.

    1. Mark · in reply to Stew Green

      I suspect that for this to work all the ownership and offices of the company would have to reside outside the US. That would involve selling the company or shifting it, including the owners. The US government don't care where the data is hosted, if they can pressure you via legal means they will. The owners may also have to accept that if they ever enter the US they will be arrested.

      1. Stew Green · in reply to Mark

        Mark, yes but it is kinda easy to have offices offshore evryone does it from, pirate bay, Starbucks etc. ..But what the US gov does with the gambling sites is freeze up their revenue stream by banning US banks from doing biz with them. But lavasoft could exist on offshore advertising like "viagra pills".
        "owners arrested" I don't think so, they wouldn't be breaking any US laws, running an offshore blind "whistle blowers" mail service is not illegal and never will be.
        – Perhaps Gov has some dirt on Lavasoft staff and has lent on them to cease operations ..perhaps it was a secret service opn all along anyway.

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