“If the American public knew what our government was doing, they wouldn’t be allowed to do it anymore.” Those are the chilling words of the owner of the now-defunct email company Lavabit. The company was Edward Snowden’s email provider, and its owner, Ladar Levison, has been forced to make a tough decision about whether to turn over users’ private information to the US government or go out of business. He chose the latter. Now, other companies are being forced to close down rather than give in to the demands the US government is making to spy on all Americans.
Levison had started his email service specifically to cater to people concerned about privacy issues. “My service was… serving those who were very privacy conscious and security focused” he said of his encrypted email company. Levison says he “offered secure access via high grade encryption, and for our paid users… we offered secure storage where incoming emails were stored in such a way that they could only be accessed by the user’s password.” The United States government had other plans, however, and now it seems that no citizen is entitled to private email at all.
He says even he himself did not have access to the emails of his users because he never wanted to “be put in a situation where I had to turn over private information.” Apparently, the United States government thinks otherwise. Levison is bound by so many government laws and demands that he was not able to go into detail about exactly what transpired that forced him to shut down his company. From watching a recent interview he gave to Democracy Now, though, it is very obvious that the government is demanding he turn over all of his user’s passwords, emails and private information. Even with his lawyer present, Levison appears nervous and ill at ease. His lawyer said Levison is afraid of being arrested and thrown in prison, which, his lawyer points out, is exactly what the first amendment is supposed to protect us against. Levison says he has been repeatedly threatened with arrest.
It’s not just speaking out about the truth that could land Levison in jail. Although he made the decision to close his business, he could be arrested for doing so, because that could be viewed as a refusal to obey the surveillance order issued by the government. Levison says he made the decision because he did not want “to become complicit in crimes against the American people.”
Shortly after Levison announced his decision, yet another email company, Silent Circle, also closed its doors, presumably for the same reasons. Other countries view the situation as disasterous and some have gotten cold feet about entering into relationships with US based businesses. UK based paper The Daily Kos pointed out that the impact of government surveillance demands is already being felt overseas, where companies have been opting out of partnerships with United States technology firms after citing concerns about privacy.
It is not just businesses that are vulnerable, says Levison, but every United States citizen. “Our federal government has the power to take all of your money and your freedom,” says Levison. “…and they’ve shown no shame in using those powers to get what they want and to punish people who speak out against them.”
Companies are being forced to close down by the demands of the US Government to spy on its citizens; citizens are being stripped of the right to free speech, and average people are being threatened with arrested for failure to comply with the surveillance state in which we are now living. Who will be the next victim?
By: Rebecca Savastio