News Byte: Lavabit Founder Shuts Down ESP, Warns Against Trusting Data to American Companies

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Source: Nick Carter via Flickr Creative Commons
Source: Nick Carter via Flickr Creative Commons

The private email service Lavabit, founded in 2004, was shut down by its founder and operator Ladal Levison. The ESP gained notoriety when a July 12 posting by GlobalPost revealed that it might have been used by Edward Snowden to petition rights groups in Russia.

In an open letter on the Lavabit site, Levison stated that he shut down the service because the alternative course would have made him “complicit in crimes against the American people.” However, he added that he was forbidden by Congressional mandate from specifying the circumstances behind this decision.  

Levison ended his letter by implying that data held by American companies was not secure: “This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_  [sic] recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”

While providers of data services for marketers have so far been insulated from the fallout surrounding Snowden's revelations of the NSA's large-scale surveillance operations, the practice of collecting and selling consumer information has come under recent scrutiny by the media, consumer watchdog groups, and even Congress. Moreover, companies like Facebook and Google, whose access to private consumer data makes them valuable to marketers, have had to publicly deny giving the NSA “direct access” to these data sources.

Data brokers constantly work to reassure consumers by stating that they ensure rigorous standards of data security. Still, it remains to be seen whether or not the United States government's possible unfettered access to corporate data sources might deter consumers from willingly sharing their information with marketers.


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