Snowden link to encrypted email service closes

Two encrypted email services have
closed down for reasons linked to US
intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.
Texas-based Lavabit service has shut
down but said legal reasons prevented it
explaining why.
Correspondents say Lavabit appears to
have been in a legal battle to stop US
officials accessing customer details.
In addition, secure communications firm
Silent Circle has shut its email service
because messages cannot be kept wholly
secret.
Web watchers
Mr Snowden, a former contractor to the
American National Security Agency
(NSA), has admitted leaking information
about widespread US surveillance on
electronic communications to the media.
He fled the US - where he now faces
espionage charges - and has been
granted temporary asylum in Russia.
Lavabit came under scrutiny following
reports that Mr Snowden was using the
service while holed-up in Moscow
airport.
"I have been forced to make a difficult
decision: to become complicit in crimes
against the American people, or walk
away from nearly 10 years of hard work
by shutting down Lavabit," Mr Levison
wrote in a letter posted on the Lavabit
website .
He said he had decided to "suspend
operations" but was barred from
discussing the events over the past six
weeks 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," he wrote.
Silent Circle said it shut down its email
service for both technical and political
reasons.
Protests have followed revelations about the
scale of NSA surveillance
"Email as we know it... cannot be
secure," wrote Jon Callas, co-founder
and head of technology officer at Silent
Circle, in a blogpost. "Email that uses
standard Internet protocols cannot have
the same security guarantees that real-
time communications has."
By contrast, he said, the firm was
keeping its secure voice and text services
going because it had control over the
infrastructure supporting them and
could guarantee that messages were not
intercepted or tampered with en route.
In addition, said Mr Callas, it was
anticipation of future government calls to
hand over customer details that
prompted the Silent Mail shutdown.
"We see the writing (on) the wall, and we
have decided that it is best for us to shut
down Silent Mail now," he said. "We have
not received subpoenas, warrants,
security letters, or anything else by any
government, and this is why we are
acting now.
Speaking to the BBC, Silent Circle co-
founder Phil Zimmermann said the
service was closed because of Lavabit's
action and because it feared it would be
coerced into handing over keys that can
unscramble messages.
In addition, he said, email was very hard
to make secure. While the contents of
messages can be scrambled little can be
done about "metadata" which can give
clues about who is talking to whom.
The US Department of Justice has so far
not commented on the Lavabit closure.
Jennifer Granick, director of civil liberties
at the Stanford Law School's Center for
Internet and Society, said America's
widespread surveillance could have far-
reaching consequences for its technology
industry.
"...the US government, in its rush to spy
on everybody, may end up killing our
most productive industry," she wrote in
a blogpost. "Lavabit may just be the
canary in the coal mine."