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Lavabit: The Email Service That Refused to Bow to NSA

Newly public court documents shed light on mysterious and sudden closure

Sarah Lazare, staff writer

The head of Lavabit, the email service used by Edward Snowden, shut down his own company rather than comply with FBI orders to expose its 400,000 users to direct surveillance, newly unsealed court documents show.

"[P]eople using my service trusted me to safeguard their online identities and protect their information," founder Ladar Levison declared in a statement posted to his Facebook page Wednesday—the day that his gag order was lifted and the court documents released. "I simply could not betray that trustI simply could not betray that trust."

Levison repeatedly refused to hand over information requested in the hunt for Snowden, who used the Lavabit service to organize a July press conference at the Moscow airport. He was dealt a search warrant in July, followed by government orders for "all information necessary to decrypt communications sent to or from the Lavabit e-mail account [redacted] including encryption keys and SSL keys.”

Levison eventually complied with the order, but presented the keys in barely-readable 4-point font on printed paper, pictured below.

He then proceeded to shut down his company, releasing a statement in early August declaring, "I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit."

In his statement released Wednesday, Levison slammed the vast secret surveillance dragnet allowed to function virtually unchecked. "If the Obama administration feels compelled to continue violating the privacy rights of the masses just so they can conduct surveillance on the few then he should at least ask Congress for laws providing that authority instead of using the courts to force businesses into secretly becoming complicit in crimes against the American people," he declares.


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