Lavabit briefly allowing users to recover their data

Users have 72 hours to change their account passwords and will then be able to download their email archives

Former users of the Lavabit encrypted email service that was shut down in August are being temporarily allowed to change their passwords and download copies of their data.

Lavabit, an email service founded in 2004, was abruptly shut down following pressure from the U.S. government to hand over user communications and the encryption keys used to secure them.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Meet Lavabit's founder: An American hero hiding in plain sight. | Learn how to protect your systems with Roger Grimes' Security Adviser blog and Security Central newsletter, both from InfoWorld. ]

As a first step in the newly announced data recovery process, users will be allowed to change their account passwords during a 72-hour period that started Monday at 7 p.m. U.S. Central Time.

Users can change their passwords by accessing https://liberty.lavabit.com, a website that has a new SSL key, Lavabit's founder and owner Ladar Levison said Monday in a statement posted on a Rally.org page used to receive donations for the Lavabit defense fund.

"Following the 72 hour period, Thursday, October 17th, the website will then allow users to access email archives and their personal account data so that it may be preserved by the user," Levison said.

When the Lavabit shutdown was originally announced, Levison was vague about the reasons that prompted his decision, saying only that he was forced to choose between suspending operations or becoming "complicit in crimes against the American people."

He claimed at the time that he couldn't disclose the events that led to the decision because of laws passed by the U.S. Congress that made it illegal to do so.

However, at the beginning of October, after a number of redacted court orders and other documents became public, Levison was able to reveal that his decision came after the federal government, as part of an investigation into several Lavabit user accounts, requested "unfettered access to all user communications and a copy of the Lavabit encryption keys used to secure web, instant message and email traffic."

It's not clear what accounts the government was investigating, but former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked documents revealing the agency's broad electronic surveillance programs, reportedly used a Lavabit email address on at least one occasion.

"I simply couldn't operate Lavabit while my lawyers appealed the demand for our [Lavabit's] encryption keys without the government agreeing to provide the transparency demanded by my conscience," Levison said in October. "The ethical implications ultimately prompted my decision to suspend the [Lavabit] service."

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