Lavabit, Silent Circle: "The Public-Private Surveillance Partnership"
What is particularly creepy about the Lavabit self-shutdown is that the company is gagged by law even from discussing the legal challenges it has mounted and the court proceeding it has engaged. In other words, the American owner of the company believes his Constitutional rights and those of his customers are being violated by the US Government, but he is not allowed to talk about it. Just as is true for people who receive National Security Letters under the Patriot Act, Lavabit has been told that they would face serious criminal sanctions if they publicly discuss what is being done to their company. Thus we get hostage-message-sounding missives like this:I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. 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.
Does that sound like a message coming from a citizen of a healthy and free country? Secret courts issuing secret rulings invariably in favor of the US government that those most affected are barred by law from discussing? Is there anyone incapable at this point of seeing what the United States has become? Here's the very sound advice issued by Lavabit's founder:This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.
As security expert Bruce Schneier wrote in a great Bloomberg column last week, this is one of the key aspects of the NSA disclosures: the vast public-private surveillance partnership. That's what makes Lavabit's stance so heroic: as our reporting has demonstrated, most US-based tech and telecom companies (though not all) meekly submit to the US government's dictates and cooperate extensively and enthusiastically with the NSA to ensure access to your communications. [...]
This morning, Silent Circle, a US-based secure online communication service, followed suit by shutting its own encrypted email service. Although it said it had not yet been served with any court order, the company, in a statement by its founder, internet security guru Phil Zimmerman, said: "We see the writing on the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail now."
"It puts synthetic biology in the same category as hate crimes and tobacco."
Kickstarter is clamping down on genetically-modified organisms following the success of a project to genetically engineer glowing plants for use as additional lighting in people's homes. Earlier this week and without explanation, the crowdfunding website quietly altered its guidelines for project creators, introducing a new term that bans creators from giving away genetically-modified organisms as rewards to their online backers. [...] The company provided only the following canned statement: "we aim to be as open as possible while protecting the health and creative spirit of Kickstarter for the long term." Yet the move comes just days after a project called "Glowing Plants" successfully raised nearly half-a-million dollars.
The project was launched by a team of trained synthetic biologists, who want to insert bioluminescence genes from bacteria and fireflies into several types of plans -- arabidopsis and roses -- to make them glow in the dark. Project backers who pledged $40 or more were promised packets of seeds of the final glowing plant products. [...]
Amirav-Drory said he had not been in touch with Kickstarter about the change in policy, but expressed puzzlement about it, because his glowing plant project had been featured repeatedly on Kickstater's editor-curated project sections.
The creators maintain their project is legal under US law, and that the risk of cross-pollination is low because the main plant they're engineering, arabidopsis, is not native to the US. However, they also say they won't be able to send the seeds to countries in the European Union and other areas where GMO crops are widely curtailed. Meanwhile, Environmental advocates and some scientists outside of the project have expressed concerns that it may lead to a negative perception of synthetic biology, or set a worrisome precedent for unsupervised release of GMOs. One researcher recently told Nature that the plants were "frivolous."