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Snowden's email service of choice, Lavabit, lives again

In an era of leaked emails and government surveillance, Lavabit aims to lock its users' communications down.

Ladar Levison speaks at CNET headquarters in 2013. He relaunched encrypted email service Lavabit on Friday.

Lavabit is back. Wait, what's Lavabit?

It's an encrypted email service most famous for its connection to Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who leaked classified documents to journalists in 2013. Lavabit shut down rather than comply with an order to allow the US government access to user emails in a bid to see Snowden's communications.

The service relaunched Friday, also Inauguration Day, with a revamped approach to security.

"Regardless of one's political disposition, today we acknowledge our shared values of Freedom, Justice, and Liberty as secured by our Constitution," wrote company founder Ladar Levison on the Lavabit homepage. "This is the reason why I've chosen today to relaunch Lavabit."

The email service comes with a variety of options that give users say over their data, but at its foundation, the idea is to scramble up emails so that only the sender and recipient can read them.

Encrypted email has been around for more than 20 years, but it's notoriously user unfriendly. Lavabit's most basic service will be email that's encrypted automatically, requiring the least amount of technical expertise for users to keep their messages private. This level of service is called "trustful," because it requires users to trust that Lavabit has this encryption thing under control.

Two other levels of service ("Cautious" and "Paranoid") put more control in the hands of users, but also require more tech savvy. Lavabit allows users to download the source code for its email server and run their own servers at home.

New users can register now, but will have to wait until later this year to start using their Lavabit accounts. Users whose accounts were suspended can start them up again.

Levison didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

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