US demanded access to encryption keys of email provider Lavabit

Lavabit said in August it was shutting down its service rather than be complicit in crimes against Americans

The U.S. government demanded from email service provider Lavabit access to all user communications and a copy of the encryption keys used to secure web, instant message and email traffic for its investigation into several Lavabit user accounts, according to a post on the Facebook page of founder Ladar Levison.

Said to be the email service provider for former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who since June disclosed through newspapers certain documents about surveillance programs by the U.S. National Security Agency, Lavabit shut down in August citing an ongoing legal battle.

Levison said he was shutting down the service rather than become "complicit in crimes against the American people." He said that under laws passed by the U.S. Congress he could not share his experiences over the last six weeks, even though he had twice made the appropriate requests.

The vast majority of the court records in the Lavabit dispute are now public, as the email provider appeals the order of a District Court before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. "I can now legally admit that I have a pending case and talk about the events leading up to the shut down of Lavabit," Levison said on his Facebook post on Wednesday.

Judge Claude Hilton of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia denied Lavabit's motion to quash the search warrant and subsequently issued a US$5,000 per day contempt of court citation, which forced Lavabit to surrender its encryption keys, according to the Facebook post.

Levison then decided to suspend operations.

Lavabit has argued that the access the government was seeking far exceeded the authority to collect metadata given to investigators by the so-called pen trap and trace laws enacted by Congress. Besides accessing sensitive information including passwords, credit card transactions, email messages and instant messages, government investigators would have also been able to detect and record IP addresses, which would have allowed it to track and record the physical location of users as they accessed Lavabit's services, according to the Facebook post.

A Lavabit Legal Defense Fund, set up to raise funds for Lavabit's legal defense, has so far raised about $150,000. But it needs at least $250,000 if the dispute should go to the Supreme Court, Levison said. Defending the constitution is expensive, he said. When it suspended service in August, Lavabit is said to have had over 410,000 registered users, of which about 10,000 were paying $8 or $16 a year for premium features like encrypted storage.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

John Ribeiro

IDG News Service
Topics: Internet-based applications and services, security, regulation, Mail, Lavabit, internet, government, legislation, privacy
Comments are now closed.

Latest News Articles

Most Popular Articles

Follow Us

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Resources

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?