Interesting development (Greenwald, so if you are just going to freak the fuck out in the comments because of the mere mention of his name, please just spare us all and don’t read this god damned post):
A Texas-based encrypted email service recently revealed to be used by Edward Snowden – Lavabit – announced yesterday it was shutting itself down in order to avoid complying with what it perceives as unjust secret US court orders to provide government access to its users’ content. “After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations,” the company’s founder, Ladar Levinson, wrote in a statement to users posted on the front page of its website. He said the US directive forced on his company “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.” He chose the latter.***
What is particularly creepy about the Lavabit self-shutdown is that the company is gagged by law even from discussing the legal challenges it has mounted and the court proceeding it has engaged. In other words, the American owner of the company believes his Constitutional rights and those of his customers are being violated by the US Government, but he is not allowed to talk about it. Just as is true for people who receive National Security Letters under the Patriot Act, Lavabit has been told that they would face serious criminal sanctions if they publicly discuss what is being done to their company. Thus we get hostage-message-sounding missives like this:
“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.”
Does that 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? Here’s the very sound advice issued by Lavabit’s founder:
“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.”***
The growing (and accurate) perception that most US-based companies are not to be trusted with the privacy of electronic communications poses a real threat to those companies’ financial interests. A report issued this week by the Technology and Innovation Foundation estimated that the US cloud computing industry, by itself, could lose between $21 billion to $35 billion due to reporting about the industry’s ties to the NSA. It also notes that other nations’ officials have been issuing the same kind of warnings to their citizens about US-based companies as the one issued by Lavabit yesterday:
And after the recent PRISM leaks, German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich declared publicly, ‘whoever fears their communication is being intercepted in any way should use services that don’t go through American servers.’ Similarly, Jörg-Uwe Hahn, a German Justice Minister, called for a boycott of US companies.”
The US-based internet industry knows that the recent transparency brought to the NSA is a threat to their business interests. This week, several leading Silicon Valley and telecom executives met with President Obama to discuss their “surveillance partnership”. But the meeting was – naturally – held in total secrecy.
Money talks, which is why we had a big press conference today. You and I can’t afford a lobbyist, but you start screwing with the high tech industry’s bottom line, and you bet your ass some changes will be coming.
And I know the professional Obama defense team will be deployed when this isn’t really about Obama to me- “OMG SOME JACKASS WITH A WEBSITE SAID SOMETHING THAT MAY BE INDIRECTLY CRITICAL OF THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN THE WORLD- I MUST MAN MY KEYBOARD TO DEFEND HIM!” But you know what? I’m old enough that when Cheney was holding secret meetings to develop energy policy, liberals hated it.