Lavabit, Company That Defied NSA Surveillance, Loses Appeal

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Common Dreams

Lavabit, Company That Defied NSA Surveillance, Loses Appeal

Company rejected demand that it unlock its encrypted system as government chased whistleblower Edward Snowden

Lavabit founder Ladar Levison speaking at the 2013 Liberty Political Action Conference (LPAC) in Chantilly, Virginia. (Credit: Flickr / cc / Gage Skidmore)

The encrypted email service Lavabit, which founder Ladar Levison chose to close down rather than give government agencies access to its customers private data, lost a federal appeal on Wednesday when the Fourth District Court upheld a lower ruling that that the company should be held in contempt for its refusal.

The government was trying to gain access to an account they alleged was being used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, but Levison rejected the broad scope of the request.

On the particulars of the decision, CNET reports:

The appellate court didn't comment on the substantive issue in the case, whether the government had the right to demand the encryption keys that would allow them to observe all traffic of a targeted email account. Instead, the appeals court ruled that the Internet privacy issues raised in Levison's appeal were not clearly articulated while he was defending himself in district court.

The appeals court said Levison should have brought forward his claim that the government was exceeding its authority under US "pen register" and "trap and trace" statutes before being charged with contempt of court by the district judge last summer.

And the Guardian adds:

Levison has said he could have given investigators access to a single account like he had done in the past, but the nature of their request for “live” access to user information would have compromised Lavabit’s entire system.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed an amicus brief in the appeal, said the court focused on the procedural aspects of the case unrelated to Lavabit's claims.

"On the merits, we believe it’s clear that there are limits on the government’s power to coerce innocent service providers into its surveillance activities," said ACLU attorney Brian Hauss in an emailed statement. "The government exceeded those limits when it asked Lavabit to blow up its business –and undermine the encryption technology that ensures our collective cybersecurity – to get information that Lavabit itself offered to provide."

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