August 17, 2013
The owner of the encrypted email service used by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden says he could face criminal charges for refusing to comply with a secret federal court order issued last week.
Ladar Levison abruptly shut down his company, Lavabit LLC, last week to avoid being forced to hand over customers’ personal information and communications.
James Trump, a senior litigation counsel at the US attorney’s office in Alexandria, Virginia, contacted Levinson’s lawyer on August 8 – the day Levinson ended Lavabit’s services, NBC News reported. The attorney was told that Levison had “violated the court order,” leading to speculation that he may be charged with contempt of court.
“I would love to tell you everything that’s happened to me over the last six weeks. I’m just legally prevented from doing so,” Levison recently told RT. He is legally barred from speaking publicly about the legal order, which is believed to be a sealed subpoena or national security letter which demands that he cooperate with an investigation related to Snowden.
In a note to customers and supporters upon shutting down Lavabit, Levison wrote on the company’s website, “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.”
Levison plans to challenge the secret order in a federal appeals court. He told NBC that he has been“threatened with arrest multiple times over the past six weeks.”
He stated that he has complied with court orders for information on targeted customers in the past, but insists the latest order is vastly different in scope and scale.
“I think the amount of information that they’re collecting on people that they have no right to collect information on is the most alarming thing,” he told RT. “I mean, the Fourth Amendment is supposed to guarantee that our government will only conduct surveillance on people in which it has a probable suspicion or evidence that they are committing some crime, and that that evidence has been reviewed by a judge and signed off by a judge before that surveillance begins. And if there’s anything alarming, it’s that now that’s all being done after the fact. Everything’s being recorded, and then a judge can after the fact say it’s okay to go look at the information.”
Following Levison’s move to shutter Lavabit, encrypted internet service provider Silent Circle has followed suit. Other encryption services have suggested that they would do the same if put in a similar position by the US government.
Riseup email service issued a statement saying, “We would rather pull the plug than submit to repressive surveillance by our government, or any government.”
Encrypted chat client Cryptocat stated, “If we receive a surveillance or backdoor order that we are unable to legally fight, we will shut down Cryptocat rather than implement it.”
Levison began a legal defense fund which raised over $40,000 within hours of Lavabit’s shutdown. That number had jumped to $100,000 by the next day, Levison told RT.