Lavabit, Silent Circle Close Down Amid U.S. Gov't Threat
Silent Circle isn't exactly silent anymore. The communications encryption firm that most people have never heard of made international news on Friday when it shuttered operations to "prevent spying," according to its website.
In case you haven't been following the developments, here's the backstory: Encrypted email service provider Lavabit wrote a letter to customers that it was the subject of an investigation by the U.S. government as well as a gag order. Lavabit, which has been linked to NSA (U.S. National Security Agency) whistleblower Edward Snowden, decided to shut down its email service. Silent Circle has followed its competitor's footsteps as a precaution.
"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," wrote Ladar Levison, owner of Lavabit. "After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations."
What About the First Amendment?
Levison went on to say that he wishes he could legally share the events that led to his decision -- but he cannot. Although the First Amendment guarantees him the right to speak out, he said Congress has passed laws that prevent him from sharing the truth. He even asked permission and was denied.
"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 to resurrect Lavabit as an American company," he wrote. "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 to a company with physical ties to the United States."
Silent Circle's CTO, John Callas, also issued a statement about its decision to pull the plug. The move comes at a cost to the encryption app maker, which publishes Silent Mail and Silent Text. The company has seen a 400 percent revenue jump since the Snowden scandal. Callas said his company sees "the writing on the wall" after the Lavabit closure.
"We have not received subpoenas, warrants, letters, or anything else by any government, and this is why we are acting now," Callas wrote in a blog post. "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."
Is Secure Impossible?
We caught up with Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, to work through the drama. He told us it's tough to parse out what exactly is going on here, mainly due to Lavabit's CEO intimating that shutting down his service was due to a government investigation and gag order he declined to detail.
"John Callas' statement that, 'Email as we know it with SMTP, POP3, and IMAP cannot be secure' offers insight into another side of this. If email cannot be secured due to intrinsic technological issues, then offering/selling a 'secure' email service is technically impossible," King said.
"By proactively shuttering its email service, Silent Circle should be able to preempt both the scrutiny of government agencies and the disappointment of security-minded customers," he said.
Of course, questions still remain about what's really involved here, and it will be interesting to see if any answers emerge as the NSA/Snowden drama continues to unfold.
Posted: 2013-08-14 @ 10:56am PT
This has little to do with freedom of speech, but rather is tied in to the notion of being a "common carrier". The government is expressing an interest in controlling a dangerous technology by limiting the trade therein.
It is a limit on capabilities not unlike being licensed to sell arms but not to deal in RPGs or grenades. While you personally may feel the 2nd amendment gives you the right to bear these type of arms, the balance between risk of violence and basic rights has been set at handguns.
This is why we vote and when necessary migrate.
Posted: 2013-08-14 @ 6:36am PT
if ur a dem or repub or supportive of any aspect of the house, senate, or the executive brach than ur part of the problem. the US has gotta get other people than the two stereotypical parties in positions of pwr at in congress and the white house. im from mich and voted against amash, but even his efforts are miniscule compared to the giant which must be taken down
Posted: 2013-08-10 @ 1:56pm PT
The constitution clearly states, "FREEDOM OF SPEECH".
With that said, the NSA is clearly in violation of the constitution. The constitution was written for a purpose, to protect "OUR" rights not the governments'. There is a set of words that goes "WE THE PEOPLE". Apparently the government has decided that they don't care nor do they respect the constitution any more!!!