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Encrypted Email Provider Lavabit Shuts Down, Blames US Gov't 771

Posted by timothy
from the land-of-the-free dept.
clorkster writes to note the following explanation posted to the front page of encrypted email provider Lavabit: "'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. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.' No doubt this has much to do with Snowden's use of the provider."
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Encrypted Email Provider Lavabit Shuts Down, Blames US Gov't

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  • Re:Freedom (Score:5, Interesting)

    by istartedi (132515) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @04:37PM (#44513623) Journal

    Anyone know a good freedom dealer? I'm an addict and need my fix of freedom, but I can't seem to find it within the borders of the US at this point.

    I never saw freedom sold on the street.
    We always had to grow our own.
    Then we'd take it from our garden on a bus.
    They'd tell us we had to sit in back.
    When we got there they said we couldn't dance.
    Yet somehow that light still shown.
    We grew our own.

  • Re:Legally (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hatta (162192) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @04:45PM (#44513737) Journal

    The PATRIOT act does not supercede the constitution. This man has a constitutional right to speak out against the government, telling his personal story about how he is being oppressed by the government is absolutely protected by the first amendment.

  • Re:Context (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Threni (635302) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @04:51PM (#44513815)

    > just want to make the U.S. look bad.

    No, all the other countries - the ones who are publicly condemning the US but secretly working with them and/or sharing their information - are too scared of the US to let him in.

  • Now since Lavabit is based on normal mail protocols, the operator has the ability to see all the data when it comes in, and obviously with a warrant or NSL, the provider can be compelled to provide the information to the feds. But I suspect that the request was not just something mild ("This sleazebag's mail account") but something broader, given the reaction was to close down the service completely.

    I own/operate VFEmail.net and consider Lavabit a 'peer' in the email space.

    I totally agree with your assessment. I've had to deal with requests and subpoenas, as I'm sure Lavabit has, and I've never been asked for broad access. In fact, the one time I did have to get 'in depth', I was specifically told by the agent in charge when everything initiated, "We are not installing any equipment at your site." In fact, he even offered to get me whatever I needed, and I declined, doing what was necessary to comply in-house. They only received what was requested on a signed subpoena, and were very clear they didn't even WANT anything else.

    I have a sinking feeling that sort of mutual cooperation is no longer the norm, and I wonder if I will be similarly backed into a corner. Unfortunately by closing, it forces our user's to seek refuge with providers who don't have any problem installing spy equipment.

  • Re:Context (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 08, 2013 @04:53PM (#44513847)

    To be fair, the Russian people have nearly unanimously voted time and again to restrict homosexuality in their country.

    For better or for worse, Russian sociologists, psychologists, criminologists and biologists have created quite the documentation chain that causes their intelligensia to favor the restraining, if not outright ban, of homosexuality in their country.

    The main populous argument goes like this:
    1. In almost every White country on Earth, Liberals have adopted a stance that encouraged the rapid immigration of unskilled, usually poor, and usually less literate peoples with predominantly non-Caucasian DNA and cultures into their lands, largely since the 1960s. This has led almost inexorably and universally wherever it has been adopted to 1) vastly increased amounts of violent and/or petty crime, particularly rape and murder, 2) a general dumbing down of society, and 3) a host of other social morays associated with overpopulation of largely non-genius peoples who refuse to assimilate with the dominant culture.

    2. Russia stands pretty much alone as the only predominantly-White country that still favors White peoples of European descent and culture, and favors those will skilled labor talents of all races.

    3. Therefore, since the very beginnings of Putin's first presidency in the early 2000s, Russia has been adopting one policy after another that focuses on making sure that not only will the Whites not be grossly polluted with Southern Asians, Hispanics, Africans, you name it, but also those policies that facilitate higher birthrates in White women and higher educational standards and after-birth care for all Russian children.

    In short, Western countries almost universally have been adopting the opposite, to the part where Whites will be a minority in America in just a few years (TX and CA already), crime will be rampant, and non-whites will be outbreeding us by 2-5:1.

  • by Zemran (3101) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @04:57PM (#44513907) Homepage Journal

    Having spent the past 10 years away from home, I can assure you that there are few places worse. Central Africa has some bad destinations if you really need to find one but most places are really great. Moscow really is a lot better from most aspects. The women are stunning and there is a lot to do and plenty of work, so he has really stepped up.

  • Re:First Amendment (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hatta (162192) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @04:58PM (#44513915) Journal

    You're an optimist. An independent judiciary would never have allowed secret courts in the first place. An independent judiciary would have denied at least one request for national security letters.

    No, it's worse than that. All three branches of our government, which are supposed to serve as checks on each other, have conspired against the Constitution. They are ALL criminals.

    Sic semper evello mortem Tyrannis!

  • Re:OK. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Billly Gates (198444) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @05:00PM (#44513947) Journal

    So it has come to this.

    Well if your clients are customers who use your service because it wont be snopped I would say you are screwed!

    American cloud companies are now suffering. [arstechnica.com] I put this link as a story, and I am surprised the slashdot editors didn't accept this.

    60% of all European companies are canceling their cloud contracts or are revising them due to security concerns!

    Canada's health ministry is quotes in that article's comments on already cancelling as there is no confidentiality thanks to the NSA's prism program.

    So my hunch is it is not his overeaction, but all his customers leaving for European or Canadian encrypted email cloud providers instead.

  • by boorack (1345877) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @05:01PM (#44513965)

    So, instead of fixing its behavior (or at least make it a bit less visible), US government (and its corporate sponsors) decided to go out and spy+opress its citizens officially. You're at the tipping point, folks. Your lovely government is now switching from covert police state to overt tyranical regime. This process will propably take another year or two until you'll get pretty much where nazi Germany was in 1939. Your favorite TV station will inform you every day how many "enemies of America" were caught/jailed/murdered this week and you'll fear every day if FBI squad will raid your house because of some phony suspicion.

    Having said that, I'd recommend Americans, especially young ones to have second passport and be ready to leave this shithole when things go full retard (eg. your fucked up government starts some mega-war and will need as much cannon fodder as possible).

  • by gallondr00nk (868673) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @05:07PM (#44514023)

    I'm a Lavabit user, and this is the absolute first I've heard of this. We had no warning and since yesterday the mail servers have been down. I assume we'll never get them back either.

    I appreciate the sentiment and all, but you could have done it with a bit more professionalism than just disappearing one day, leaving those of us with Lavabit accounts completely in the lurch.

  • Re:Context (Score:3, Interesting)

    by amicusNYCL (1538833) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @05:08PM (#44514035)

    but also those policies that facilitate higher birthrates in White women and higher educational standards and after-birth care for all Russian children.

    That has nothing to do with restricting homosexuality. A gay man is not going to go out and impregnate a women just because you made homosexuality illegal. It's just going to drive the behavior underground. The points you listed have everything to do with xenophobia and nothing to do with homosexuality (or any sexuality, really).

  • Re:Applause (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @05:13PM (#44514107) Journal

    The core problem is that Lavabit got their security model wrong. With their scheme, the encrypted private key is stored on their servers, which means that the government need only demand that the unencrypted password for a user be logged somewhere whenever that user logs in, and then the government has access to all emails, past and present.

    Such a model is not significantly more secure than an unencrypted mail provider, because anyone capable of compromising the machine can capture that passphrase, and then the entire security model comes down like a house of cards. The only situation in which your data is more secure with such weak encryption is if you happen to not log in to the account while the server is compromised. Therefore, the only way to protect the users' data is to shut down the servers so that they cannot log in.

    Had they used a more paranoid security model—a proper client-side app to generate and store the keys and perform all decryption—then the private key would be stored on the user's machine, and would never be seen by the server. In that case, the only thing the government could do would be to demand that new messages to a particular user be stored off to the side in the clear, and it would not be possible to gain access to any existing messages.

  • by lxs (131946) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @05:20PM (#44514209)

    They wanted to know who was leaking their secrets so they could harrass and persecute them and anon.penet.fi was an anonymous email relay used by the leakers. Now why do I get this persistent sense of deja-vu when reading the news these days?

  • by ImdatS (958642) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @05:33PM (#44514395) Homepage

    As someone who has moved to the US only about four years ago, I can say that it still is a great country. There is still the possibility to fix the government's wrongdoings - and there are really great people here in the US.

    The country is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen (well, it is half a continent, isn't it?). I took the California Zephyr and traveled a little, otherwise spent most of my time at the East Coast or West Coast. I'm planning to do a cross-country trip quite soon with a car.

    But so, whether it was in the major cities or small towns and villages - the people are really great, nice, not always educated enough (to my expectations), but have a great heart.

    Unfortunately, the last decade was a nightmare as a lot of people here started thinking about isolationism again - also arrogance (Government mostly, but also some John Does).

    I think there are only very few things that Americans need to do to make their country really a Great Country again:

    1) Fight for your freedoms that are enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution - all your rights are there and you need to grab them back from your government and government agencies;
    2) Have a serious interest in what's really going on in the world - politically, economically, socially - and take actions (not military) using soft-power to expand the rights and freedoms into other places in the world;
    3) Use your riches to share with the rest of the world and help people in other places to increase their wellbeing/wealth
    4) Take responsible action towards the nature and environment - you are the guys who, more or less, "invented" National Parks and Nature Reserves
    5) Stop waging war on anything - fighting against terrorists is a police activity, not military - there is no need for a "War on Terrorism" (we in Good Ol' Europe had terrorism for a very long time and made a lot of mistakes - learn from them - but we never fought a "War on Terror" [except Turkey])
    6) And stay/become liberal, welcoming, diverse again - as much as possible.

    I must say, having lived in Europe, Turkey and in spent some time in other countries, the US is still the country where I feel most "free" - that doesn't mean it is free, but it is to show how "unfree" you can feel in other places on this planet. Let's just make the US again the "Country of Ms Liberty"

  • Re:Applause (Score:5, Interesting)

    by swillden (191260) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Thursday August 08, 2013 @05:37PM (#44514425) Homepage Journal

    While what you say is true, it misses the most important point, which is that Mr. Levison is not even allowed to tell us why he has to shut down. The problem isn't surveillance, the problem is secrecy about surveillance that prevents it from being properly discussed and evaluated.

  • Re:Applause (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 08, 2013 @06:06PM (#44514789)

    My only guess is they ordered him to install spyware. He could not tell us that or disobey the order but he could shut the system down.

  • by multi io (640409) <olaf.klischat@googlemail.com> on Thursday August 08, 2013 @06:12PM (#44514851)
    I always assume email encryption only makes sense if it's end-to-end, so what does an "encrypted email provider" do? Conceal sender & receiver addresses? Guarantee encrypted transport?
  • Re:Applause (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mi (197448) <slashdot-2012@virtual-estates.net> on Thursday August 08, 2013 @06:37PM (#44515175) Homepage

    Are you more obedient and scared than the east German citizens of the GDR tyranny ?

    We are more obedient, because our "KGB" is nowhere near as oppressive as that of GDR or USSR. Not yet, anyway. So far their targets really are terrorists and other nasty criminals. It may or may not get there — and the trends are scary, but it is still a long way to go to get there...

    Not that we can't make a fast leap forward (ahem) to cover the distance... If the IRS and other Federal departments have already been used to target opposition [dailycaller.com], what's to stop the "KGB" from being used the same way? Nothing — other than morals and scruples of the actual people there. Hardened FBI crime-fighters aren't quite the same as the IRS. But that, admittedly, is a weak defense...

  • Concrete reality (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Red Jesus (962106) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @06:51PM (#44515323)

    My name is Anthony Coulter. I signed up for Lavabit on October 5, 2009 with the address anthonycoulter(at)lavabit.com. I chose Lavabit very consciously. My university email address was about to expire and I had concerns about Google's privacy policies. Lavabit was created specifically for privacy-conscious people. They offered server-side encryption to paying customers; when I became a paying customer a year or two later I decided to check that box because, hell, why not?

    [Note that I never did ask how server-side encryption worked. They said that things were rigged up so that they could not decrypt my on-server email even if they were coerced into it. My guess was that they used a hash of your login password to decrypt your email. I didn't know whether it was true or not, but I didn't think it really mattered. Apparently it did matter.]

    I use my Lavabit account for everything. My bank statements are mailed to it. Most of my internet login IDs created since 2009 depend on it. All of my friends use it. And now it's gone.

    I last checked my email around 9pm on Tuesday, August 6. When I woke up the next morning my connection attempts to the Lavabit server timed out. That was inconvenient; I had to send some information to my parents about an upcoming family reunion, so I sent them a text message promising to email it to them when the service was restored Wednesday night. It wasn't; I finally sent the email from an old family account I used back in the late 1990s. When I woke up *this* morning and Lavabit was still down, I did a couple of Google searches to see if anyone else noticed that an email provider had been gone for twenty-four straight hours. I found this [emaildiscussions.com] discussion, which I quote for the benefit of people who will read this post long after the forum has ceased to exist:

    RobertPaulsen
    Junior Member
    Join Date: Aug 2013
    has anybody considered that if edward snowden did use lavabit then the Gouvernment is maybe interested in his mails which he wrote and sended to Glenn Greenwald. Maybe they seized the server and waved with a national security letter. just a thought !

    This was posted at 10:55pm last night; when I saw it this morning I instantly dismissed the poster as a childish Internet revolutionary. The idea that the Federal government would clog up Lavabit for an entire day and a half just to get at Snowden is silly! They can't disrupt business like that!

    Then I ran another Google search for "lavabit down" before getting off work today, and... here we are. Emails sent to my lavabit account still don't get bounce warnings, so noone who's emailed me since 9pm on Tuesday will know that I didn't get their email, or that I never will. I also have to go through the long and tedious process of reassociating all of my Internet accounts with a new email address. But which provider will I choose? I still don't trust Google. I don't know what I'll do yet; it was only two hours ago when discovered that my four-year-old email address had been taken down by the Federal government.

    I just donated two thousand dollars to Lavabit's legal defense fund. (The confirmation email from Paypal just arrived in my old Cox account.) I cannot prove this to the Internet, and it's debatably silly for someone so privacy-conscious to want to do so. But at some point we will have to take this issue seriously. I watched the Snowden news from a distance; I didn't say or do anything about it because it wasn't really my problem. Now I lost my email, and if I had used IMAP this would have been a tragedy of enormous proportions.

    --Anthony Coulter, a.k.a. Red Jesus

  • Re:Context (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stanlyb (1839382) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @07:37PM (#44515729)
    It is funny, but in Russia, if you are suing someone, or have some search warrant, you cannot forbid the "victim" to talk about it. Unlike USA, where it is the norm, for some strange reason, no matter the 1st amendment.
  • by Richy_T (111409) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @08:01PM (#44515899) Homepage

    Border patrol operates quite far from the border these days. I was quite surprised to be stopped on 40 in New Mexico at a checkpoint. As an immigrant, I was glad I had my green card with me (though I had no idea I would be needing it) though I'm sure I could have gotten away with lying about being an American citizen.

  • Re:OK. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by garyebickford (222422) <gar37bic.gmail@com> on Thursday August 08, 2013 @08:48PM (#44516281)

    I've never been convinced that the cloud was a good place to store stuff - even without the US (or any) government involved. In general, 'midnight auto supply and cloud services inc.' just seems like a really unreliable and unsafe place to put the business jewels, so to speak. It's hard enough to manage security for one's own hardware and software, but trusting an anonymous entity with unknown employees and who-knows-what kind of locks and security arrangements means that if a break-in occurs you are never even likely to know about it, much less have anything you can do about it.

    Protip - a few years ago I was talking to the then-head of the Navy's then-nascent cybersecurity team (soon to become one or two battalions). He said that their red-team tests showed that the average cost to buy your way into a Fortune 500 company's data center was $7500. If nothing else, Snowden showed that it may cost nothing at all.

    And that's not even to mention the potential penetrations at every ISP on the way to and from the cloud provider.

    (Snowden seems to me somewhat equivalent to the 'Falcon' in "The Falcon and the Snowman", with updated technology. In 1975, the Falcon [wikipedia.org] became concerned about what he saw coming across the teletype at TRW, and one thing led to another. He got out of prison (after 24 years of a 40 year sentence) a few years ago.

  • by Cimexus (1355033) on Thursday August 08, 2013 @10:22PM (#44516909)

    Can I just say that as someone who has just moved to the US four MONTHS (not years) ago, I echo this sentiment completely. I can tell that this place used to be the America that some people still think it is - the most prosperous, fair and free society on earth. And the people are still some of the friendliest you will meet. But gee, it's going downhill fast.

    My experience in the first four months, for anyone that's interested in a new immigrant's perspective:

    The amount of poverty (or near-poverty) here compared to my home country (Australia) astounds me. Huge portions of the population barely getting by...the run-down infrastructure etc. Not to say there's not nice areas too ... but it's really inconsistent. You don't see that at home (due no doubt in part to a more progressive tax structure and universal medical/housing safety-nets). Education seems a bit lacking too - not so much formal education but general awareness by people of what's going on, both at home and abroad, and general knowledge (particularly of scientific matters). A lot of that comes down to the utterly terrible TV news here (relying on my VPN back to Australia to get decent ABC/SBS/BBC news services) and the lack of a decent documentary-focused public broadcaster (PBS is OK, but it pales in comparison to BBC/ABC (Australia)/CBC (Canada) etc.)

    On top of that, I don't feel any more (or less) free here than in Australia. Sure there are some things I can technically do a bit easier in America - buy a gun, speed on the highway (speeding isn't enforced here as strictly as in Australia), etc. But OTOH, they have some weird restrictions on alcohol here (an older drinking age being only the tip of the iceberg) and certain other recreational drugs are prohibited in the US whereas they were decriminalized in my state in Australia. The US is also far more censored - it's actually quite hilarious seeing what they blur out or beep out on TV here. (My American wife was fairly shocked to see full frontal nudity on standard free-to-air TV in Australia, on the flip side). Both countries have similar fundamental rights and freedoms (America's are codified in the Bill of Rights, Australia's stem from the Westminster principles of good governance, centuries of local and English common law precedent, human rights statutes at a State level and accession to international rights treaties). Ironically, even though rights are arguably more strongly protected, on paper, in the US than Australia, it also seems that they are more regularly violated or infringed upon in the US too.

    I do feel more 'monitored' here. More subject to suspicion, identification, verification. Every man and his dog asks you for ID or the ubiquitous SSN (Australia has no equivalent to this and even if it did, what the hell does social security have to do with my electric company or ISP or any other company that randomly seems to need my SSN?). I was prevented from doing basic things like buy some over-the-counter cold medicine (because I didn't have a US driver license ... they wouldn't accept a passport, even a US passport!) or open a checking account at a bank (because I have no credit record ... why does that matter when I'm not even trying to borrow any money!?) None of that would be an issue for a new immigrant in Australia, but here I've had no end of problems doing even the most basic things. Cops seem aggressive, paranoid and unfriendly here, whereas at home they are usually pretty nice guys and treat you with respect. It just feels ... very unwelcoming ... not like the America I expected. And I should be a 'desirable' immigrant by any standards - university educated, significant assets and savings, a stable well-paying job, no criminal history etc.

    The other thing that really surprised me is the bloatedness and inefficiency of the government. Americans look at places like Australia and think we must have a huge government in order to deliver all those social programs such as

  • by dbIII (701233) on Friday August 09, 2013 @09:15AM (#44519177)
    If the USA has a fucking stupid idea that proves be be an utter disaster then nearly any idiot in Australian politics is still going to adopt it because it comes from the USA so it must be good. We even copied the things that made the 1980s California electricity system a corrupt joke - and we did it after Enron collapses and everyone actually in the USA knew better than to copy them.
    So as an Australian I wouldn't recommend Australia if you are trying to get away from US idiocy, because it's going to follow after you in a few years and probably be amplified. We treat the shit they throw away as useless as if it is golden tablets of wisdom.

"When it comes to humility, I'm the greatest." -- Bullwinkle Moose

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