Lavabit – an encrypted email service purportedly used by Snowden – unplugs its servers and shuts down after refusing to comply with government attempts to co-opt their wires for surveillance, an action which the founder of Lavabit sees as a “crime against the American people.”
This bold, moral action is unprecedented in the world of big data, telecom and homeland security, where every tech company we know (and use) is tied up in the talons of America’s vast and penetrating surveillance regime. Google, Facebook, Verizon, Telus and the rest, feel forced to sell out our private information at the request of stern orders from the American government’s secret, unconstitutional court – the FISA court. This is the first known time that a company has taken a stand of this magnitude against the NSA. Lavabit has courageously chosen to close down its successful business rather than comply with a FISA court order that they felt was unethical.
What has it come to that all technology companies are forced into an existential ultimatum: to fold and fail ... or the become complicit in a sneaky, unethical, secret and overbearing surveillance apparatus?
“I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit,” founder Ladar Levison declared on the company’s homepage.
Levinson explained how government restrictions prevented him from explaining the details of exactly what led his company to this decision. He writes, “ I feel you deserve to know what's going on – the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.”
But what if Lavabit’s decision is the portent of an exciting shift to come? Could Lavabit have started a trend, where one by one all the big tech companies from Silicon Valley and beyond copy Lavabit and take a stand against the CIA, NSA and FISA courts? The tables are slowly being turned around. Maybe the bully will finally get cornered by all its victims whose collective strength is far greater than its own.