Feds Threaten Lavabit Founder For Shutting Down His Service

Since shuttering his email service, which was used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, Ladar Levison has been stuck in a Kafkaesque legal battle. He limited to what he can even say. 

Levison posted a message about a government investigation that would force him to “become complicit in crimes against the American people” were he to stay in business

Ladar Levison explains that the government has threatened him with criminal charges for his decision to shut down the business, rather than agree to some mysterious court order. The feds are apparently arguing that the act of shutting down the business, itself, was a violation of the order:

… a source familiar with the matter told NBC News that James Trump, a senior litigation counsel in the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, Va., sent an email to Levison’s lawyer last Thursday – the day Lavabit was shuttered — stating that Levison may have “violated the court order,” a statement that was interpreted as a possible threat to charge Levison with contempt of court.

That same article suggests that the decision to shut down Lavabit was over something much bigger than just looking at one individual’s information — since it appears that Lavabit has cooperated in the past on such cases. Instead, the suggestion now is that the government was seeking a tap on all accounts:

Levison stressed that he has complied with “upwards of two dozen court orders” for information in the past that were targeted at “specific users” and that “I never had a problem with that.” But without disclosing details, he suggested that the order he received more recently was markedly different, requiring him to cooperate in broadly based surveillance that would scoop up information about all the users of his service. He likened the demands to a requirement to install a tap on his telephone.

Levison’s lawyer, Jesse Binnall, who is based in Northern Virginia — the court district where Levison needed representation — added that it’s “ridiculous” that Levison has to so carefully parse what he says about the government inquiry. “In America, we’re not supposed to have to worry about watching our words like this when we’re talking to the press,” Binnall said.

“As a Dallas company, we weren’t really equipped to respond to this inquiry. The government knew that,” said Levison, who drew parallels with the prosecutorial bullying of Aaron Swartz. “The same kinds of things have happened to me. The government tried to bully me, and [my lawyer] has been instrumental in protecting me, but it’s amazing the lengths they’ve gone to to accomplish their goals.”

Hours after Lavabit announced its shutdown, encryption app Silent Circle said it was preemptively shutting down its email service. Silent Circle founder Phil Zimmermann, who created email encryption software PGP, said the company deleted all of its customers’ existing email when it did that. “We’ll try to do something nice for them to numb the pain,” he said. The thinking being that it’s not obstruction of justice if you do it before justice comes calling?

Kim Dotcom is taking his Mega empire to the next level, announcing plans to release a very secure email service for US customers.

Dotcom announced his plans after Edward Snowden email provider Lavabit and “Silent Email” provider Silent Circle shut down secure email. According to Lavabit’s owner, Ladar Levison, he was shuttering the service to avoid becoming “complicit in crimes against the American people.”

Speaking to ZDNet last week, Mega chief executive Vikram Kumar said the company was being asked by its customers to provide secure forms of voice calling and email services.

 

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