Lavabit, the super secure e-mail service that whistleblower Edward Snowden uses for his electronic communications, has shut-down because it does not want to "become complicit in crimes against American people," owner and operator Ladar Levison writes on the now defunct website. Levison doesn't go into too much detail about the circumstances of the site's suspension because he legally can't. But it sure sounds like he didn't want to participate in the kinds of data collection programs that Snowden revealed to the public:
Wow Lavabit is shutting down. Reading between the lines, most likely to avoid tapping Snowden’s email for the US gov https://t.co/BdfNpjW4A6— tom robinson (@tlrobinson) August 8, 2013
Because of the type of encryption Lavabit uses, peer-to-peer, even if the government intercepted Snowden's emails sent using Lavabit, it wouldn't be able to read them without his encryption key. If the NSA was only after those old emails, shutting down Lavabit wouldn't do them much good anyway. But if the government demanded that Lavabit install a method for monitoring its users communications, as in an ongoing data collection program like PRISM, shutting down would be a drastic-but-effective way to avoid participation. So far, only one company is known to have challenegd a FISA order of that kind: Yahoo, and it lost.
If Lavabit doesn't exist, then the NSA can't monitor it. Of course, that just means Snowden will have to find another ultra-secure email provider. Maybe he should consider a company with zero American ties, per Levison's urging:
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.