What is particularly creepy about the Lavabit self-shutdown is that the company is gagged by law even from discussing the legal challenges it has mounted and the court proceeding it has engaged. In other words, the American owner of the company believes his Constitutional rights and those of his customers are being violated by the US Government, but he is not allowed to talk about it. Just as is true for people who receive National Security Letters under the Patriot Act, Lavabit has been told that they would face serious criminal sanctions if they publicly discuss what is being done to their company. Thus we get hostage-message-sounding missives like this:
“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.”
Does that sound like a message coming from a citizen of a healthy and free country? Secret courts issuing secret rulings invariably in favor of the US government that those most affected are barred by law from discussing? Is there anyone incapable at this point of seeing what the United States has become? Here’s the very sound advice issued by Lavabit’s founder:
“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.”
As security expert Bruce Schneier wrote in a great Bloomberg column last week, this is one of the key aspects of the NSA disclosures: the vast public-private surveillance partnership. That’s what makes Lavabit’s stance so heroic: as our reporting has demonstrated, most US-based tech and telecom companies (though not all) meekly submit to the US government’s dictates and cooperate extensively and enthusiastically with the NSA to ensure access to your communications. [...]
This morning, Silent Circle, a US-based secure online communication service, followed suit by shutting its own encrypted email service. Although it said it had not yet been served with any court order, the company, in a statement by its founder, internet security guru Phil Zimmerman, said: “We see the writing on the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now.”
We got news for you: if Phil Zimmerman is giving up things are far worse than you can imagine.