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Lavabit, Silent Circle close secure email rather than spill the goods

Lavabit and Silent Circle, both providers of secure communications for the consumer market, close under threat of U.S. government meddling.

Lavabit and Silent Circle, two providers of snoop-proof communication services, have ceased handling email this week, aiming to avoid forced disclosure of their data to U.S. government agencies.

Texas-based Lavabit made the announcement Thursday, with Lavabit founder Ladar Levison saying he was forced to choose between being "complicit in crimes against the American people" and having to "walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations." Hinting strongly that government agencies have requested data -- something that is easy to believe given that the email service has emerged as one likely used by whistleblower Edward Snowden -- Levison said, "As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks." The closure leaves approximately 350,000 subscribers without their surveillance-free mail.

Silent Circle, headquartered in Washington, D.C, just today followed suit and stopped providing the email portion of its broader secure communications suite. An announcement appeared on the company's website, saying that the move was "preemptive" and that "it is always better to be safe than sorry, and with your safety, we decided that the worst decision is always no decision." The statement, penned by co-founder and chief technology officer Jon Callas, further claims that "email as we know it, with SMTP, POP3 and IMAP, cannot be secure."

Since Silent Circle also encrypts phone calls, text messages and video conferencing with a suite of iOS and Android apps, business will continue there, just without encrypted email.

Callas said that the email portion of the service, Silent Mail, had "similar security guarantees to other secure email systems, and with full disclosure, we thought it would be valuable." But while "many people wanted it," the notice said, "we have reconsidered this position.

"Silent Mail was a good idea at the time, and that time has passed."

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