Lavabit: How One Company Refused To Give FBI 'Unrestricted' Access To Emails Of 400k Customers

The Justice Department began targeting Lavabit the day after Snowden revealed himself as the source of the NSA leaks.

In August, Lavabit became the first technology firm to shut down rather than disclose information to the U.S. government. Lavabit owner Ladar Levison closed his encrypted email company after refusing to comply with a government effort to tap his customers’ information. It has now been confirmed the FBI was targeting National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, who used Lavabit’s services. But Levison says that instead of just targeting Snowden, the government effectively wanted access to the accounts of 400,000 other Lavabit customers. Levison now says that since first going public he has been summoned before a grand jury, fined $10,000 for handing over encryption keys on paper instead of digitally, and threatened with arrest for speaking out. The Justice Department began targeting Labavit the day after Snowden revealed himself as the source of the NSA leaks.

Levison discussed his case along with his attorney, Jesse Binnall. "What they wanted was the ability, basically, to listen to every piece of information coming in and out of my network," Levison says.

Levison begins by explaining to DemocracyNow! host Amy Goodman "just so you don’t get me in trouble," that he isn't able to confirm who the subject of the NSA investigation was.

"What I can say is that what they wanted was the ability to basically listen to every piece of information coming in and out of my network. And, effectively, what they needed were my SSL private keys. For those at home that don’t know what SSL is, it’s the little lock icon in your web browser. SSL is the technology that effectively secures all communication on the Internet, between websites, between mail servers. It secures instant messages. And it represents the identity of a business online. And they effectively wanted that from me, a very closely guarded secret, something I’ve compared to the secret formula for Coca-Cola, so that they could masquerade as me or as my business on the Internet and intercept all of the communications coming in."

A full transcript of the discussion is available here.

About Diane Sweet

Diane Sweet's picture
Senior Editor, Lives in a gerrymandered district in Michigan.

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