Tuesday 01 July, 2014
Last summer, facing pressure from the United States government to violate his customers’ privacy, Lavabit owner Ladar Levison pulled the plug on his business and baby. He had built the company up over the course of ten years from a small start-up but because it was the encrypted email provider allegedly used to Edward Snowden, he decided to kill it rather than hand over customer data to the feds.
At the time, Levison was quiet about the decision because he feared legal repercussions. He said only that he had to shut it down because he ‘refused to become complicit in crimes against the American people.’ This statement is fairly mysterious but if you follow current events, you can put the picture together for the most part. But with the court unsealing key documents related to the case, he can now talk about it more freely.
It All Happened So Fast
One day, federal agents appeared at Ladar Levison’s door with a court order that would force him to install surveillance equipment on his computer network. This device would read all messages to and from his customers.
Not knowing what to do, Levison says he sought legal counsel, which was no easy task considering the unusual nature of the case. He says that in the first two weeks, he was served legal papers no less than seven times. He was called by the FBI every other day. He also received a summons to appear at a court 1,000 miles away and a subpoena for his encryption keys.
All of this indicates that he was getting the runaround from the feds, who wanted him to act quickly and recklessly to comply with their demands.
The Real Story
What the feds said they wanted was the account information of Edward Snowden, who by this time was in the news as the whistleblower who brought to light the NSA’s domestic spy program. But they also wanted the same access to Lavabit’s 400,000 other customers, none of whom were accused of anything at all.
The case is the story of an American hero who destroyed his entire business rather than compromise what he believed was right by the U.S. Constitution, but it also has darker overtones.
Many pundits (myself included) believe that the point wasn’t only to get Edward Snowden’s email data or even the data of the provider’s 400,000 subscribers. The real objective, many think, was to send a message to similar encrypted email service providers. The message is, ‘You’re next.’ The government gets what it wants and it can ruin you if you don’t hand it over.
With the unsealing of important documents, Levison now feels freer to speak. You can read his detailed account of the entire process in his own words here – http://www.occupy.com/article/secrets-lies-and-snowdens-email-why-i-was-forced-shut-down-lavabit