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Snowden-Linked Email Service Shuttered Amid Privacy Worries

RIA Novosti

19:01 09/08/2013

WASHINGTON, August 9 (RIA Novosti) – An encrypted email service provider reportedly used by accused US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden has announced it is closing and issued a warning about the trustworthiness of US-linked companies that collect individuals' private data.

Lavabit, a Texas-based email service that claimed to have served some 350,000 users, said in a vaguely worded statement Thursday evening that it was shuttering its operations because it did not want "to become complicit in crimes against the American people," though it said current US laws prevented the firm from disclosing the specific events that led to his decision.

"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," Lavabit founder Ladar Levison said in the statement.

Snowden, who is wanted by US authorities on espionage charges for leaking classified details of US telephone and electronic surveillance programs, received temporary asylum in Russia last week, a move that has exacerbated already frayed ties between the two countries.

On her Facebook page last month, Tatyana Lokshina, deputy head of the Moscow bureau of the US rights group Human Rights Watch, published an emailed invitation to a July 12 press conference at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport that was believed to have come from Snowden and that displayed the

Shortly after the Lavabit announcement, another US secured-communications company announced it had "preemptively" closed its email service in order to "prevent spying."

The company, Maryland-based Silent Circle, said that it had not been contacted by US authorities but indicated that the Lavabit closure played a role in its decision to halt its email service, Silent Mail.

"We see the writing on the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail," the company said in a blog post Friday. "We have not received subpoenas, warrants, security letters, or anything else by any government, and this is why we are acting now."

Levison indicated in his statement that he had been in contact with US authorities over the last six weeks, a timeframe that roughly matches the duration of Snowden's current sojourn on Russian territory after he touched down at Sheremetyevo on June 23 on a flight from Hong Kong.

"I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests," Levison said. " … 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."

Privacy advocate Kurt Opsahl told the British newspaper The Guardian, which first published Snowden's leaks in June, that the closure of the two email providers in such circumstances is unprecedented.

"I am unaware of any situation in which a service provider chose to shut down rather than comply with a court order they felt violated the constitution," Opsahl, a lawyer with the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation told the newspaper.

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