I’ve written before on the dangers to the US tech industry from NSA surveillance. Those dangers are now in full view. This week, Lavabit, the secure email service supposedly used by Edward Snowden, abruptly shut down. The owner left no doubt as to what was happening:
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
This was followed hours later by Silent Circle shutting down its email service to preemptively avoid being subject to the same treatment. Silent Circle continues with other services for secure telephone, texting and videoconferencing, but believes the current email standards are too insecure for them to be able to guarantee the privacy of their customers.
All of this after Google engineer Dr. Joseph Bonneau was announced the winner of the National Security Agency’s first annual “Science of Security Competition” and then chastised them in a blog post:
“I’d be remiss not to mention my conflicted feelings about winning the award given what we know about the NSA’s widespread collection of private communications and what remains unknown about oversight over the agency’s operations. Like many in the community of cryptographers and security engineers, I’m sad that we haven’t better informed the public about the inherent dangers and questionable utility of mass surveillance. And like many American citizens I’m ashamed we’ve let our politicians sneak the country down this path,”
All of this, as Europeans and people around the world continue to question if they can trust their data with any US company. US cloud services are already expected to lose billions of dollars because of this. How far does this go? Do we sacrifice our tech industry to this insatiable appetite for surveillance? Have we just given up on a free and open internet?
I know what needs to happen. Ladar Levison, the owner of Lavabit took a courageous stance, sacrificing his business in order to not be forced to comply with what he felt was wrong. People under this sort of attack from the government will have to go further, and start ignoring the gag orders. A gag order is not legal and violates the First Amendment, and it will take brave people to stand up, defy these gag orders – National Security Letters, or whatever form they come in – and fight it in court. Let the courts then enforce these bad laws, and throw good people in jail for speaking the truth. Let the outrage grow. At some point, Congress will understand they must do something, or lose what remaining legitimacy they have. If there’s anything worth fighting for, it’s that here in America, we have an absolute right to free speech. Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. Wasn’t that the freedom we were supposed to be defending?