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Lavabit founder closed his secure email service to 'protect the privacy' of its users

Lavabit founder closed his secure email service to 'protect the privacy' of its users

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It's been a few days since Lavabit, the secure email service used by whistleblower Edward Snowden, shut down to avoid "crimes against the American people." Founder Ladar Levison's initial message detailing the shutdown was quite cryptic, but now he's starting to speak out about the circumstances surrounding Lavabit's closure — as much as he's legally able to, anyway. CNET has shared an extensive interview in which Levison details the reasoning behind the shutdown, the reaction of Lavabit's users, and his feelings behind the extend of the US government's surveillance programs.

"For me it wasn't about protecting a single user," Levison told CNET, "but protecting the privacy of all my users." He also has an issue with the government not allowing him to discuss what he's learned that led to the decision to shut down Lavabit. "I believe that people have the right to know what their government is doing," he said. "I had an issue with me doing what they wanted me to do without them disclosing it."

"It wasn't about protecting a single user, but protecting the privacy of all my users."

He went on to say there were "parallels" between the accusations of prosecutorial misconduct in the Aaron Swartz case and what he's had to deal with so far. "What's worse is that I can't tell you what that abuse was," Levison said. The Lavabit founder told a similar story to Forbes, saying that "The government tried to bully me, and [my lawyer] has been instrumental in protecting me, but it's amazing the lengths they've gone to to accomplish their goals."

"I lost my one and only e-mail account over the past 10 years."

As for how Lavabit's customers have reacted to the shutdown, the response so far has been "overwhelmingly positive." There's definitely been frustration from users who lost their email account without any notice, a feeling Levison can sympathize with. "I lost my one and only e-mail account over the past 10 years, as well," he told CNET. "I feel my decision was the lesser of two evils." Levison hopes to eventually release a tool that'll let users download their Lavabit data, but he noted that it wouldn't be encrypted. He said that users "should only use it if they feel comfortable with the information being intercepted."

And while he has no fundamental problem with the government requesting information for law enforcement purposes ("If information is unencrypted and law enforcement has a court order, I hand it over," he said to Forbes), it's the government's secret methods that concern him. "The methods being used to conduct those investigations should not be secret," he said. Levison's resigned himself to a long legal battle, but in the meantime he's decided to simply "take a break from email." As he rather chillingly told Forbes: "If you knew what I know about email, you might not use it either."