EXCLUSIVE: Owner of Snowden's Email Service on Why He Closed Lavabit Rather Than Comply With Gov't

"My biggest fear when I shutdown the service was that no good would come of it," says Ladar Levison, the owner of Lavabit, an encrypted email service believed to have been used by National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. Levison abruptly shut Lavabit down last Thursda, writing on a note left on its website lavabit.com: "I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people, or walk away from nearly 10 years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit."

Levison joins Democracy Now! in an exclusive television interview to discuss his case -- without really talking about it. Levison says he was barred from discussing the events over the past six weeks that led to his decision.

"Unfortunately, I can't talk about it. I would like to, believe me. I think if the American public knew what our government was doing, they wouldn't be allowed to do it anymore, which is why I'm here in D.C. today speaking to you," Levison says. "My hope is that the media can uncover what's going on without my assistance, and sort of pressure both Congress ... to put a cap on what it is the government is entitled to in terms of our private communications." He adds: I'm hoping that by speaking out I can prompt hopefully Congress to act and change the laws that put me in this circumstance to begin with. I know that's a little ironic considering that I can't speak about the specific laws that put me in this position, but there is a real need in this country to establish what the rights are of our cloud providers."

Levison is joined by his lawyer, Jesse Binnall. "Ladar is in a situation where he has to watch every word he says when he's talking to the press, for fear of being imprisoned," Binnall says. "The simple fact is that I'm here with him only because there are some very fine lines that he can't cross for fear of being dragged away in handcuffs."

"There's information that I can't even share with my lawyer, let alone with the American public," Levison says. "So, if we're talking about secrecy, you know, it's really been taken to the extreme, and I think it's really being used by the current administration to cover up tactics that they may be ashamed of."

When asked why he shut Lavabit down, Levison says: "It was a very difficult decision, but I felt that, in the end, I had to pick between the lesser of two evils, and that shutting down the service, if it was no longer secure, was the better option."

Later on Thursday, another secure email provider called Silent Circle also announced it was shutting down.

"It's important to note that Lavabit wasn't the first service provider to receive a government request, and we're not the first service provider to fight it," Levison says. "We're just the first service provider to take a different approach, and it could very well be because of our size that we have that option. We're wholly focused on secure email. Without it, we have no business. You take a much larger provider with a greater number of employees, and shutting down a major section of their company when they have to answer to shareholders may not be a viable option."

Click here to read the full transcript from this interview.

See more Democracy Now! reports about Edward Snowden and the NSA leaks in our archive, including interviews with the Guardian journalist who broke the story, Glenn Greenwald.