Lavabit, an encrypted email service believed to have been used by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, has abruptly shut down. The move came amidst a legal fight that appeared to involve U.S. government attempts to win access to customer information.
In a Democracy Now! broadcast exclusive, we are joined by Lavabit owner Ladar Levison and his lawyer, Jesse Binnall. "Unfortunately, I can’t talk about it. I would like to, believe me," Levison says. "I think if the American public knew what our government was doing, they wouldn’t be allowed to do it anymore."
In a message to his customers last week, Levison said: "I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people, or walk away from nearly 10 years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit." Levison said he was barred from discussing the events over the past six weeks that led to his decision. Soon after, another secure email provider called Silent Circle also announced it was shutting down.
Former Internet Provider Gagged by National Security Letter Recounts How He Was Silenced for 6 Years
We continue our discussion of government surveillance and Internet privacy with someone who was under an FBI gag order for six years. In early 2004, Nicholas Merrill, who was running an Internet service provider in New York called Calyx, was issued a national security letter that ordered him to hand over detailed private records about some of his customers. Under the law, recipients of the letters are barred from telling anyone about their encounter with the FBI.
While Merrill was not the first American to be gagged after receiving a national security letter, he was the first to challenge the FBI’s secret tactics. Merrill went to the American Civil Liberties Union, which then filed the first lawsuit challenging the national security letter statute. In the lawsuit, Merrill was simply identified as John Doe.
It was only in August 2010, after reaching a settlement with the FBI, that Merrill was able to reveal his identity. "[The case] resulted in the national security letter provision of the PATRIOT Act being ruled unconstitutional twice," Merrill says. "The problem was, though, we were never able to get to the Supreme Court to get a final, binding ruling that would affect the whole country. ...
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The concern about cybersecurity and the concerns about privacy are really two sides of the same coin. There are a lot of really uncontroversial examples in which organizations and people need confidentiality: Medicine is one, journalism is another, human rights organizations is an obvious third. We’re trying to make the case that if the right of Americans to encrypt their data and to have private information is taken away, that it’s going to have grave, far-reaching effects on many kinds of industries, on our democracy as a whole, and our standing in the world."