Lavabit Founder Launches Kickstarter to Open Source Code

Ladar Levison, the founder of Dallas-based Lavabit, launched a Kickstarter campaign on Monday to fund his efforts on open-sourcing the Lavabit codebase and integrating support for the newly announced Dark Mail protocol.

As you may recall, Levinson recently shut down Lavabit, a secure email service, rather than comply with US Government demands to provide back-door access to user data.

In his shutdown announcement on the Lavabit website he said, “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.”

Now, Levinson is hoping to take his work on Lavabit and release it as free open source software. In addition, Levison is participating in a new initiative called Dark Mail… support for which will be baked into the open source version of Lavabit. Dark Mail is a protocol designed to ensure full end-to-end encryption of an email and its meta data, making it completely NSA-proof.

Unfortunately as Kickstart campaigns go, Levinson’s page isn’t that great. The video is an unedited replay of his announcement at the Inbox Love conference and actual details about what he’ll be using the money for are sparse. Not to mention the rewards listed aren’t all that intriguing.

Regardless, his campaign is now a few days old and has already generated over $60,000 in pledges from 1,500+ backers.

Still, not everyone is convinced that open-sourcing Lavabit and the Dark Mail initiative is the path forward for secure email. This post on Hacker News reveals quite a number of naysayers. The top comment on the post?

“I think we should support Ladar as a person for bravely deciding not to comply with the government’s request, but that we should be extremely critical of the technical decisions that lead to his ability to have complied.

LavaBit was a service offering “secure” email using a mechanism known to be insecure, which unnecessarily put a lot of users at risk. It seems injudicious to fund its redeployment, and even a little bit strange to fund the same person to develop something new.”

Given the recent revelations about all the spying the NSA and US Government has been conducting on us, secure email and secure communications is sure to be at the top of people’s minds (especially us geeks) for some time to come.

It will certainly be interesting to see how widely adopted open source Lavabit and the Dark Mail protocol become.

Bradley Joyce

Bradley is the founder of LAUNCH DFW and an avid proponent/supporter of the DFW Startup Community. Bradley is also the founder of Skyrise, a community, communications and concierge platform for commercial office buildings.