TECH
08/08/2013 05:25 pm ET Updated Aug 09, 2013

Lavabit, Edward Snowden's Email Service, Abruptly Shuts Down Amid Court Battle

Lavabit, the privacy-conscious email service famously thought to have been used by Edward Snowden, abruptly shut down on Thursday as the company prepares to go to court against the U.S. government.

In a message posted on Lavabit's website, founder and owner Ladar Levison wrote that 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," Levison wrote. "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."

Lavabit allowed its members to send highly encrypted emails that, even if intercepted by a third party, would be nearly impossible to read without a password. According to Lavabit's now-defunct site, the company used two layers of advanced encryption to protect what was sent and did not collect data to tailor ads to emailers, as is common among major email services like Gmail and Yahoo. Lavabit made money through subscription fees instead.

Snowden, the former National Security Administration contractor who leaked secret spy agency documents to The Guardian and The Washington Post, used Lavabit to protect the messages he sent since he arrived in Russia, according to a Human Rights Watch worker who was in touch with him.

Levison wrote in his note that a U.S. law prevents him from detailing the circumstances under which he is closing his company. The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has prevented Google and other Internet firms from disclosing details about government requests for email access under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

"We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals," Levison wrote. "A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company."

Read Levison's letter below:

My Fellow 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. 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.

What’s going to happen now? We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company.

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.

Sincerely,
Ladar Levison
Owner and Operator, Lavabit LLC

EARLIER ON HUFFPOST:

PHOTO GALLERY
HuffPost
BEFORE YOU GO
Politicians React To NSA Collecting Phone Records
PHOTO GALLERY
Politicians React To NSA Collecting Phone Records

CONVERSATIONS