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Lavabit, the privacy-conscious email service famously thought to have been used by Edward Snowden, abruptly shut down on Thursday as the company prepares to go to court against the U.S. government.

In a message posted on Lavabit's website, founder and owner Ladar Levison wrote that after "significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations."

"I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot," Levison wrote. "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."


Lavabit allowed its members to send highly encrypted emails that, even if intercepted by a third party, would be nearly impossible to read without a password. According to Lavabit's now-defunct site, the company used two layers of advanced encryption to protect what was sent and did not collect data to tailor ads to emailers, as is common among major email services like Gmail and Yahoo. Lavabit made money through subscription fees instead.

Snowden, the former National Security Administration contractor who leaked secret spy agency documents to The Guardian and The Washington Post, used Lavabit to protect the messages he sent since he arrived in Russia, according to a Human Rights Watch worker who was in touch with him.

Levison wrote in his note that a U.S. law prevents him from detailing the circumstances under which he is closing his company. The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has prevented Google and other Internet firms from disclosing details about government requests for email access under Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

"We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals," Levison wrote. "A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company."