Following on from today’s news of the unexpected closure of Lavabit, an email encryption service allegedly used by NSA whisteblower Edward Snowden, Silent Circle has announced that it too will shutter its secure email service
Silent Circle says the close of Silent Mail is indeed related to the closure of Lavabit, which abruptly revealed its shuttering in order to avoid becoming “complicit in crimes against the American people.”
“I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot,” Lavabit owner Ladar Levison wrote, explaining that he is legally prevented from explaining the background behind the site’s closure.
In other words, it would rather shut down than co-operate with the US government.
Given Snowden’s reported use of Lavabit to secure his communications, it isn’t difficult to get an idea of the pressure Levison has come under from the NSA and others. It’s that fear that US authorities could demand access to user data that has sparked this decision from Silent Circle.
“We see the writing the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now,” a blog post explains. It goes on to point out that, while the company had not received subpoenas, warrants, security letters or other government correspondence, it is heeding the example of Lavabit.
Like Lavabit, Silent Mail was designed to help make email communication more secure. Silent Circle offers a range of apps and services, including encrypted voice, video and text which will remain open. Though the email service, which is end-to-end secure, doesn’t house encrypted data or collect metadata, its founders admit that it is “something of a quandary for us” because “email as we know it…cannot be secure.”
Silent Circle says that it has spent weeks mulling the decision, in part due to the sheer demand for Silent Mail, but ultimately it doesn’t believe it can offer a service that will fully protect its users from the US government and other data collection programs and demands.
“It is always better to be safe than sorry, and with your safety we decided that the worst decision is always no decision,” the company wrote.
Today’s news comes a month after Silent Circle told Forbes that its monthly revenue had increased more than 400 percent month-on-month since Snowden first NSA leaks went public in June. The company had expected to increase its staff from 64 to 100 before the end of 2013, it remains to be seen how today’s news will affect it.
It appears that there’s a fine balance between letting people know you are here to help encrypt their email, and catching the attention of the powers that be while the spotlight shines on you.
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