E-mail provider Lavabit LLC not only got caught up in the NSA/Edward Snowden scandal, it got taken down by it as well. And now Lavabit users have just a short window of time to get their e-mails back, says Lavabit founder Ladar Levison.
Lavabit shut down suddenly in August after essentially losing a battle with the U.S. government. Now if users want their mail back, they must log in, change their password, get a new SSL key, and tomorrow (Oct. 17) they can retrieve the messages.
Over 400,000 users have been locked out of these accounts for over two months.
The Origins of Lavabit
Lavabit was built to avoid the privacy issues that have plagued services such as Gmail. Lavabit not only didn’t parse mail so as to sell targeted ads, it used encryption it believed not even government intelligence agencies could break.
This is the type of security that led Edward Snowden to use the service, and it is this now famous users that got Lavabit in so much hot water.
Snowden used Lavabit to let reporters know about a press conference he was holding in Moscow, where he had fled. It appears that the U.S. government then issued a court order for Snowden meta data, as well as his encryption keys.
Levinson fought the order, but was under a separate gag order so he was unable to fully discuss his August 8 shut down.
The shutdown even impacted Levison, who used his own service as his only source of e-mail.
Levinson hopes the shutdown is not the end of the road for Lavabit. He has a fund set up to finance his court fight to reopen the service in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Levinson himself decided to take down the site after government demands for his SSL keys could have opened up all his users to scrutiny.
Here is what Levinson wrote to his clients.
“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,” he wrote. “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.”