While he was in the airport, Edward Snowden reportedly sent invites to people to his press conference via LavaBit. Whether he ever used LavaBit before that time is unknown, but now LavaBit is suspending operations. The following notice now appears on their home page (h/t, BoingBoing):
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.
Owner and Operator, Lavabit LLC
Defending the constitution is expensive! Help us by donating to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund here.
My first thought was that LavaBit received a National Security Letter, but as others have pointed out on Twitter, the government may have obtained orders for prospective data, or for something even more malicious:
Lavabit ordered to (1) let FBI take over Snowden’s account? (2) Send Snowden a 0-day? (3) Something to do with Freedom Hosting? #speculation
— Kevin Poulsen (@kpoulsen) August 8, 2013
@kpoulsen (4) Inject a sniffer in-between the in-bound mail and crypto process, thereby ensuring plaintext of inbound mails
— Jeremy Johnson (@beyondnegative) August 8, 2013
@kpoulsen If shutting down resolves the problem then the govt must have been seeing prospective data, not existing business records via NSL.
— jennifer granick (@granick) August 8, 2013
Obviously, all of the above is just speculation and there will undoubtedly be more.
But when you think about it, is anyone surprised that the government would seek information from LavaBit? The only surprise, perhaps, is that a business has shut down or suspended services because of some demand(s) we have not been told about.
NOTE: Kevin Poulsen raises another possibility – that this might have to do with Freedom Hosting (and not Snowden). We know Snowden’s case is in the Fourth Circuit. I don’t know about Freedom Hosting.
Update: Joseph Menn of Reuters filed this report.