Well, this was predictable...
It really was only a matter of time in the current environment. It looks like the Obama Administration is going to take even further affirmative steps to make sure no Americans' personal email is secure from wanton government snooping.
This from the Gray Lady:
The shutdown of two small e-mail providers on Thursday illustrates why it is so hard for Internet companies to challenge secret government surveillance: to protect their customers’ data from federal authorities, the two companies essentially committed suicide.
Lavabit, a Texas-based service that was reportedly used by Edward J. Snowden, the leaker who had worked as a National Security Agency contractor, announced the suspension of its service Thursday afternoon. In a blog post, the company’s owner, Ladar Levison, suggested — though did not say explicitly — that he had received a secret search order, and was choosing to shut the service to avoid being “complicit in crimes against the American people.” [emphasis ed.]
Within hours, a fast-growing Maryland-based start-up called Silent Circle also closed its e-mail service and destroyed its e-mail servers. The company said it saw the writing on the wall — while also making it plain that it had not yet received any court orders soliciting user data.
The other day, the editors and I were placing some good natured wagers on the Shape-Of-Things-To-Come and in the process I suggested to S9 that it would only be a matter of time before we saw a coder actually be prosecuted for just writing a piece of code that might befuddle official state decryption.
While we are not quite there yet, this development doesn't auger well for those who trade in weapons-grade cleverness.
And if you think that these are just a couple of e-drama queens worrying about nothing, you should probably know that the leadership of both Lavabit and Silent Circle are (or were) pioneers of internet privacy encryption. In fact, one of Silent Circle's plank-owners is Phil Zimmerman, the man generally credited with creating the internet encryption standard PGP (or "Pretty Good Privacy").
Zimmerman was even the target of a federal criminal investigation in the early 90s, essentially for trafficking in the aforementioned "weapons grade cleverness."
I will leave it to the redoubtable Dr. Strych9 to bring the real heat on this topic, as he is imminently qualified, and quite safe from extrajudicial interference high in geosynchronous orbit above Bagdad by the Bay on the Mojohaus Sattelite of Love...
Suffice it to say that this is a troubling development and that, tragically, neither our lawmakers nor courts have kept up with the executive branch's nigh on insatiable appetite for the private communications of Americans.
More to the point, those institutions have not kept pace with the development of technology in the application of those laws we already have that should be sufficient to prevent unwarranted government intrusion into our personal lives and relationships.
The Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution (remember the Consititution? This is a song about the Constiution...) contain some pretty tight legal writing where our civil liberties are concerned, and equally impressive is the fact that these words continue to be as relevant today as they were 230-some years ago.
I won't rehash their exact wording here; you can read them at the link if you need a quick refresher. Suffice it to say they are pretty succinct in describing the things our government is not allowed to do, among those being jacking our gear, rifling our comms and forcing us to bilge ourselves out to the authorities.
Really, it's not that tough a concept... Unfortunately, the advent of new communications technolgies have created questions that our leadership (for lack of a better word) has not bothered to try to answer. Well, nature does abhor a vacuum, and as such, there are forces that rushed in to fill the void.
But, lest I start to get too far afield here, I will let Ladar Levison, founder of Lavabit have the last word, from his release last week:
“I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot,” he wrote. “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,”