NSA surveillance: Another secure email service bites the dust

lavabit and silent mail

Following in the wake of Lavabit’s recent self-imposed suspension, another secure email provider, Silent Circle, has decided to shut down its ‘Silent Mail’ service. Lavabit is the secure email service which came under notice for being whistleblower Edward Snowden’s provider of choice. Lavabit’s owner/operator, Ladar Levison, published the following announcement coinciding with his service’s indefinite suspension:

Click image to enlarge
Click image to enlarge

Silent Circle has now followed suit with its Silent Mail service, issuing a statement including very similar reasoning to that of Lavabit. Although, in Silent Mail’s case, they are talking “discontinued” rather than “suspended”.

Silent Circle has preemptively discontinued Silent Mail service to prevent spying.

Silent Mail has always been something of a quandary for us. Email that uses standard Internet protocols cannot have the same security guarantees that real-time communications has. There are far too many leaks of information and metadata intrinsically in the email protocols themselves. Email as we know it with SMTP, POP3, and IMAP cannot be secure.

We see the writing on the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail. We have not received subpoenas, warrants, security letters, or anything else by any government, and this is why we are acting now. We’ve been debating this for weeks, and had changes planned starting next Monday. We’d considered phasing the service out, continuing service for existing customers, and a variety of other things up until today. It is always better to be safe than sorry, and with your safety we decided that in this case the worst decision is no decision.

We apologize for any inconvenience, and hope you understand that if we dithered, it could be more inconvenient.

So, it is obvious that recent revelations regarding the NSA’s data mining activities have convinced the owners of these services that they cannot guarantee the levels of security required for their clients. It’s not all a one way street though; Jennifer Granick, Director of Civil Liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, had this to say about Lavabit’s voluntary shutdown:

The fact that neither Americans nor foreigners trust the U.S. government and its NSA anymore puts the U.S. communications companies at a severe competitive disadvantage. American law provides almost no protection for foreigners, who comprise a growing majority of any global company’s customers. And even though Americans receive more nominal legal protection, we now know that these legal protects haven’t stopped the NSA from wiretaps fiber optic cables inside the United States, warrantlessly gathering Americans’ emails and chats from service providers like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple, collecting phone records on every American for the past seven years, or demanding that companies build, or at least maintain, surveillance backdoors in products advertised as secure from eavesdropping.

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