Another Secure Email Service Shuts Down To Avoid Having To Do So Later

from the us-government-destroying-american-businesses dept

When Lavabit announced its sudden decision to shut down yesterday, many of its customers were actually fairly perturbed that they were given no notice, and no way to retrieve their mail before it went away. While I can certainly understand that emotional response to losing your email account like that, it seems rather obvious that there was no real choice here. If Lavabit had alerted customers that they had a day or a week or whatever before the service shut down, it seems quite likely from the hints given that the government would have stepped in with an order to preserve the information it was clearly seeking access to.

Given that, it's noteworthy that another secure email provider, Silent Circle, chose to announce its own plans to close down its secure email service hours later. Silent Circle isn't facing the same hidden court orders/government demands, but it recognized that it would likely come some day soon -- and thus it was better to shut down ahead of time, before the government forced it to make the same decision. I'm somewhat surprised that Silent Circle didn't at least give its customers a day or whatever to close out their email, but rather the company flat out destroyed its servers, noting:
"Gone. Can't get it back. Nobody can."
The company is still offering other secure tools that feature end-to-end encryption such that there's nothing they can hand over to the government.

In discussing this, I saw some people point out that another service, CryptoCloud, has actually had it as a part of its privacy policy for over five years that it would shut down rather than let the government get direct access to accounts:
If a court orders us to allow them to secretly place surveillance "sniffers" on a specific account, we will fight this order to the highest judicial authority possible. If we lose, we will shut down the business and call it a day. End of story.
Still, this kind of thing is showing how these ridiculous surveillance policies from the US government are doing massive harm to US businesses, basically making them either lie to their customers and violate their privacy, or to shut down completely. It's going to drive many, many users to overseas services. Is that really worth it?

Filed Under: email, secure email, shutting down, surveillance
Companies: lavabit, silent circle

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  1. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 9 Aug 2013 @ 9:41am


    Pen and paper, hand delivery and lock and key are the best available techs for privacy.

    There is no single "best" type of tech for privacy. It's very situation-dependent. In some cases, you're right, the old-school is the best school. In other cases, it's the least secure choice. It all depends.

    Case in point: one time pads. These are very old-school, and require nothing more than pen and paper and a way to generate random numbers (during WW2, they used bingo balls to do this). Properly done, encrypting with one-time pads is 100% unbreakable encryption.

    Despite this, they are far from the most common kind of encryption, because in most cases, they are one of the most vulnerable for a single reason: you have to transmit the "key" (the OTP itself) to the other end of the communication channel in a secure fashion. And most of the time if you can accomplish that, you could just send the massage itself the same way and don't need to use the OTP at all.

    On the other hand, if you're fielding an army, you can just give everyone their pads in advance before sending them out into the battlefield. Their use makes a lot of sense in that context (ignoring the possibility that the enemy might be able to obtain the pads by searching bodies.)

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