Alternative email service provider Lavabit, which Edward Snowden allegedly used, shut down yesterday. CEO Ladar Levinson refused to be “complicit in crimes against the American people” when he was served with court orders to cooperate with a government investigation.
It is still uncertain if the government has actually seized any property yet, but Lavabit’s shutdown preempted the closing of another similar provider, Silent Circle, due to what they claim is “the writing on the wall” of greater government surveillance activities.
The action of these businesses closing their doors to avoid cooperation with the government has never happened in our history and benchmarks a critical moment in the debate between privacy and security — one that implies a more aggressive and secretive movement to surveil civilians despite constitutionally guaranteed rights to privacy and against unreasonable search and seizure.
Even though the details of Lavabit’s particular case are still foggy (a gag order was issued in addition to the demand for cooperation), it is obvious that the the federal government is investigating Snowden’s emails and metadata stored in Lavabit servers.
But does this point to an overreaching of force and authority on the part of the government?
Given Snowden's fugitive (and arguably treasonous) actions, the NSA is desperate to collect any evidence of his intentions to reveal more dubious or damning secrets to enemies or the public, and since Snowden broke the laws of the land and his contract with his employer, he should be investigated, but why should the other 350,000 or so Lavabit customers be subject to the same?
Handing over all Lavabit servers would essentially lead to an unreasonable search and seizure of citizens' data. Larger providers like AT&T, Facebook, and Google, who have already worked with the government, have aided and abetted this disgrace. Apparently, it was all in the name of “national security”.
To this end, the NSA and the Obama administration constantly claim the necessity of dragnet surveillance tactics to prevent attacks, but in Lavabit’s case, agents and courts can operate without being held accountable by the public.
The integrity of our personal privacy will continue to wither as the shadowy power of our government continues to encroach. For now though, the actions by the Lavabits and Silent Circles of the world (and hopefully, their angry customers) will continue to shed light upon the dubious future of this surveillance movement.