DALLAS — Lavabit, an email encryption website believed to be used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, shut down and posted a message on the web page explaining the reasoning behind it:
Founded in 2004 by Ladar Levison, the site provided secure communication between its users
“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,” Levison wrote on the web page. “After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations.”
Levison has been unable to talk about his situation though, due to a gag order in place that does not allow him to explain his circumstances. Levison is believed to have received a National Security Letter, which is a demand letter that requires the particular entity to divulge information regarding phone numbers dialed, recipients to emails and transactional records. The letters also contain a gag order, preventing the recipient from disclosing the fact that the letter was ever issued.
Levison’s reaction to the demand letter, which Snowden has described as “inspiring,” has led to other similar websites to follow suit. Within 24 hours of the Lavabit shutdown, Silent Circle, another website focused on secure communication, shut down their encrypted email service too.
Levison, who is now 32, has been building his website for almost 10 years. He founded Lavabit with friends from Southern Methodist University in 2004 as a response to the Patriot Act. Levison has compared its shut down to “”putting a beloved pet to sleep.”
“I was faced with the choice of watching it suffer, or putting it to sleep quietly… it was very difficult,” he told Democracy Now. “I had to pick between the lesser of two evils.”