Two email companies that used encrypted systems, one of which was used by Edward Snowden, have decided to shut down because they were clearly asked to do things by the government that compromised their clients’ confidentiality and they refused to do so.
The bizarre nature of the country we now live in demonstrated by the short letter that the head of one agency (Lavabit) released, of which I will highlight a small bit.
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.
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. [My italics-MS]
Declan McCullagh speculates that the FBI served Lavabit with a federal court order (secret of course, because that is how the US now operates) to intercept users’ (including Snowden’s) passwords and the company did not want to do so.
Just think about it. The head of a private company has shut down operations because the government asked him to do something he did not feel was right, but he is not allowed to even tell people what it is that he was asked to do.
Glenn Greenwald points out how absurd the situation is (and also includes a response from Snowden on this development) and the threat it poses to American businesses as they are increasingly seen as mere extensions of the US government.
Does that [the Lavabit head’s letter] 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?
Lavabit has taken an impressive and bold stand against the US government, sacrificing its self-interest for the privacy rights of its users.
However, until more and bigger companies and people start taking such principled stands, the government will not be swayed.