Lavabit is an encrypted email service, founded in 2004, that suspended operations on August 8, 2013 after it was ordered to turn over its Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) private key to the US government. Lavabit is owned and operated by Ladar Levison.
Lavabit received media attention in July 2013 when it was revealed that Edward Snowden was using the Lavabit email address firstname.lastname@example.org to invite human rights lawyers and activists to a press conference during his confinement at Sheremetyevo International Airport in Moscow. The day after Snowden revealed his identity, the federal government served a court order, dated June 10, 2013 and issued under 18 USC 2703(d), a 1994 amendment of the Stored Communications Act, asking for metadata on a customer that was unnamed. Kevin Poulsen of Wired wrote that "that the timing and circumstances suggest" that Snowden was this customer. In July 2013 the federal government obtained a search warrant demanding that Lavabit give away the private SSL keys to its service affecting all Lavabit users.
On August 8, 2013, Lavabit suspended its operations, and the email service log-in page was replaced by a message from the owner and operator Ladar Levison. The New Yorker suggested that the suspension might be related to the National Security Agency’s "domestic-surveillance practices".Wired speculated that Levison was fighting a warrant or national security letter seeking customer information under extraordinary circumstances, as Lavabit had complied with at least one routine search warrant in the past. Levison stated in an interview that he has responded to "at least two dozen subpoenas" over the lifetime of the service. He hinted that the objectionable request was for "information about all the users" of Lavabit.
Levison explained he was under gag order and that he was legally unable to explain to the public why he ended the service. Instead, he asked for donations to "fight for the Constitution" in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Levison also stated he has even been banned from sharing some information with his lawyer. Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation called on the FBI to provide greater transparency to the public, in part to help observers "understand what led to a ten-year-old business closing its doors and a new start-up abandoning a business opportunity".
Levison said that he could be arrested for closing the site instead of releasing the information, and it was reported that the federal prosecutor's office had sent Levison's lawyer an e-mail to that effect. 
Lavabit is believed to be the first technology firm that has chosen to suspend/shut down its operation rather than comply with an order from the United States government to reveal information or grant access to information. Silent Circle, an encrypted email, mobile video and voice service provider, followed the example of Lavabit by discontinuing its encrypted email services. Citing the impossibility of being able to maintain the confidentiality of its customers' emails should it be served with government orders, Silent Circle permanently erased the encryption keys that allowed access to emails stored or transmitted by its service.
In September 2013 Levison appealed the order that resulted in the closing of his website.
Levison and his lawyer made two requests to Judge Claude M. Hilton to unseal the records which were denied. They also launched an appeals case regarding legality of the original warrant. The appeals court then requested the records to be unsealed. Judge Claude M. Hilton then granted the request to unseal the records, despite his refusal the previous two times. On October 2, 2013, the Federal District Court in Alexandria, Virginia unsealed records in this case, with only the name and detail of the target of the search order censored. Wired suggested the target was likely Snowden. The court records show that the FBI sought Lavabit's SSL private key. Levison objected saying that the key would allow the government to access communications by all 400,000 customers of Lavabit. He also offered to add code to his servers that would provide the information required just for the target of the order. The court rejected this offer since it would require the government to trust Mr. Levison and stated that just because the government could access all customers' communication did not mean they would be legally permitted to do so. Lavabit was ordered to provide the SSL key in machine readable format by noon, August 5 or face a fine of $5000 per day. Levison closed down Lavabit 3 days later.
On October 14, 2013, Levison announced he would allow Lavabit users to change their passwords until October 18, 2013, after which they could download an archive of their emails and personal data.