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Protecting your customers may lead to big penalties in today's police state

Ladar Levison had a thriving business.  His encrypted email service was heavily used by corporate users that valued protecting their trade secrets.  The Obama administration, however, stepped in and crushed this American success story.
I. Feds Demand Lavabit Hand Over Keys to All its Corporate Customers' Communications, Opening the Door for Corporate Espionage
Mr. Levison had a client whose name today is well known -- Edward Snowden.  It is perhaps unsurprising that a man who was smart enough to dupe supposed computer espionage experts into giving up their logins would be savvy enough to find a well encrypted email service to protect his work while he prepared to blow the lid off the Obama administration's unprecedented campaign of spying.
After it was revealed that the Obama administration was nullifying the Constitutional protections against search and seizure in order to execute warrantless seizures of the metadata of America's law abiding majority, the administration struck back.  Members of Congress, including numerous Republicans that showed a surprising solidarity with the Democratic President, labeled Edward Snowden a “traitor”.

Ladar Levison
Ladar Levison was forced to abandon his thriving email business to protect his users from spying by the Obama administration.  [Image Source: D Magazine]

In the aftermath, one of the Snowden reports carelessly showed his email -- revealing he had a Lavabit address.  Now President Obama and his bipartisan backers had a new victim to sink the teeth of the judicial system into.
Mr. Levison was ordered not just to hand over Mr. Snowden's encryption keys, but the keys of all of his users -- every single one.
Mr. Levison was faced with a tough choice.  He could give the government the keys, which federal officials could potentially use to conduct corporate espionage on behalf of their campaign donors without the victims or public ever knowing.  That was choice A.  Or he could defy the order and face imprisonment under the provision of 50 USC § 1861/18 USC § 2703 (which define the federal government's rights to unconstitutional seizures) and 50 USC § 1881a (which defines the punishment for exercising ones Constitutional rights and refusing to comply to said seizures).  That was choice B.
Instead he opted for choice C -- to act in civil disobedience while being careful not to directly defy the legal statutes of the USA PATRIOT Act.  He allegedly ducked out his back door when he first saw federal agents coming to his home, denying them a chance to deliver a subpoena.
The Obama administration's FISA court was not happy with this action.
It held Mr. Levison in contempt of court and authorized the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to install malware on Mr. Levison's servers -- R -- and fine him $5,000 for every day he did not turn over his customers' encryption keys.
Mr. Levison exercised his Constitutional rights and waited two days, before defiantly delivering a printout of the keys printed in size 4 font.  But by then he'd already shut down his business and purged his servers, leaving nothing for the feds to collect.
Mr. Levison stated in a brief release, "[I refuse] to become complicit in crimes against the American people."
D Magazine has written an excellent in-depth story about the scuffle and an interview with Mr. Levison.
II. I Fought the Law and I Won -- But It Cost Me
The Obama administration was outraged at that refusal.  The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) briefly considered seeking his imprisonment, according to sources.  But after Mr. Levison collected $100,000 USD in donations to support a legal defense, the DOJ declined to seek prison time for Mr. Levison's acts of civil disobedience.  Instead it opted to just punish Mr. Levison with the financial penalty stated in the original contempt order -- a fine of $10,000 USD.
Mr. Levison refused to accept even that punishment.  He has appealed the fine to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, arguing his Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure were violated.  He asserts that his business was founded on U.S. privacy and that the government was behaving illegally when it order him to violate all of his users privacy by handing over everyone's encryption keys, in order to allegedly target just one user.
The DOJ is fighting back, looking to nail Mr. Levison with the $10,000 fine.  In a just-filed appellate brief it writes:

Mr. Levison [illegally] alerted all of Lavabit’s users, including the target of the investigation, that Lavabit was engaged in litigation with the government and that, rather than comply with the court’s orders, he decided to shut down his business.

The pen/trap order and the search warrant issued by the district court were plainly lawful. The information used by Lavabit to encrypt communications on its systems, what has been referred to as SSL or encryption keys, was both necessary to the installation and operation of a lawfully ordered pen register/trap and trace device as well as subject to disclosure pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2703. As such, it was within the district court's power to compel the production of those keys.


It remains to be seen whether the appellate judges will uphold the $10,000 fine.  But for now the worst is presumably over and Mr. Levison can celebrate victory to an extent.  He won.  His client's data is safe from the Obama's administration's PATRIOT Act seizure attempt.  And despite that he's a free man.

Yet the victory is also bitter and Pyrrhic.  Lavabit was a thriving business.  Now it is but a memory, in an era where digital privacy is slowly becoming illegal in the U.S. as Big Brother tightens his grip.

Sources: U.S. Appellate Brief, D Magazine

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RE: Make no mistake
By techxx on 11/13/2013 2:38:51 PM , Rating: 1
So you're saying the government should be able to break laws and do whatever the hell they want and everyone should just remain quiet?

RE: Make no mistake
By JasonMick on 11/13/2013 2:48:09 PM , Rating: 3
So you're saying the government should be able to break laws and do whatever the hell they want and everyone should just remain quiet?
"[Wilson] gazed up at [Big Brother's] enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."

RE: Make no mistake
By Reclaimer77 on 11/13/13, Rating: 0
RE: Make no mistake
By DigitalFreak on 11/13/2013 3:37:44 PM , Rating: 1
I can't speak for Ammo but the moment he went to China and handed over secret state information is when he went from "whistle-blower" to "traitor".

Prove it. It's public knowledge that he did not take any of the information with him. Just more Reclaimer77 talking out of his ass again.

RE: Make no mistake
By ClownPuncher on 11/13/2013 3:39:28 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps, yet we voted for traitors like Obama and Holder, too.

RE: Make no mistake
By ritualm on 11/13/2013 3:52:52 PM , Rating: 2
the moment he went to China and handed over secret state information is when he went from "whistle-blower" to "traitor".

Because he'd be hailed as a hero if he did that on American soil? Several men-in-black show up and you'd never hear of him again.

The 9/11 legacy showed how the "terrorists" who are actively trying to kill us all are more trustworthy than the government who is "trying" to "protect" us from danger. Snowden spelled that out in spades. He is not a traitor - that title belongs to the President and every political mouth breather that tiptoes his Orwellian crusade.

Meanwhile, Ammohunt is just another brainwashed vector in the state-sponsored terror plot against freedom and privacy.

RE: Make no mistake
By Reclaimer77 on 11/13/2013 5:00:05 PM , Rating: 2
Several men-in-black show up and you'd never hear of him again.

Oh come on, that's ridiculous. You watch too much TV. Look at all the leaks that's happened under Obama besides Snowden. These people didn't just disappear!

RE: Make no mistake
By ritualm on 11/13/2013 5:27:32 PM , Rating: 2
When the information being leaked has the proverbial "sh!t hit the fan" capability, with the government exercising every measure available at its disposal, it's ridiculous to not go paranoid.

Obama has pursued every leaker under his tenure with Espionage Act charges. He is willing to put everyone under the microscope to silence one former contractor. This is not something to joke about.

Reclaimer77, you are smarter than this.

RE: Make no mistake
By Ammohunt on 11/14/2013 3:49:43 PM , Rating: 2
Like i have stated in the past nothing that Snowden has reveal has been deemed "illegal" and not a single legal action has been taken because of that fact. Just because <insert pissed off anarchist millenial> deems a crime has been committed doesn't make it so. So subscribe to whatever conspiracy theories you want, but until actionable evidence presents itself the conversation is limited to the question of "do we feel that what the NSA is doing is necessary and needed for the protection of this country?" at this point the majority of Americans have said yes! Regardless of how you or i feel about it. Having been part of the apparatus to a limited degree i understand the why's of what the NSA is doing and am fine with it. The major problem as i see it is the complete lack of oversight of the NSA by congress (aka we the people). If you have a problem with what those folks are doing then try not voting in Authoritarian Marxists next time. Meanwhile i am preparing for the worst and hoping for the best regardless of what the rest of America does.

RE: Make no mistake
By MrBlastman on 11/13/2013 4:50:21 PM , Rating: 2
I can't see how he is a traitor. Sometimes, to rattle the system you have to shake the tree hard--and this he did very well. Do you think for a moment that if he had tried to do this internally, he would have succeded?

He'd have been given a cold-shoulder and then ultimately fired... provided he had not taken passwords. If he had gone completely through with his plans except releasing externally (and revealed it all internally), would we even be hearing about Edward Snowden?

He'd be a forgotten soul by now, swallowed by the Government machine. We aren't China with secret prisons but any number of convenient things could have happened to him to make him be quiet, permanently.

The sad truth is not enough people in America give a darn for him to pull it off within our walls and system.

RE: Make no mistake
By croc on 11/13/2013 8:50:52 PM , Rating: 2
You are aware that Hong Kong is NOT China, right? You are aware that Hong Kong is NOT communist, right? No, obviously not... maybe you should excercise some of your vaunted 'freedoms' and get a passport, do some traveling. Learn something. THEN maybe shoot off your mouth without blowing holes in your butt...

RE: Make no mistake
By Ammohunt on 11/15/2013 3:16:27 AM , Rating: 2
Never been to Hong Kong I see; Hong Kong is a special economic zone and that's about it its still very much controlled by the mainland communists.

RE: Make no mistake
By M'n'M on 11/14/2013 12:14:17 AM , Rating: 2
He's not a traitor for what he did. He's a traitor for how he did it.

Perhaps ... but Snowden is a sideshow off the real issue. Why people wan't to concentrate on his status vs what the Gov't has been doing is a mystery to me. In the long trail of history, which is going to be more important ?

Tell me, off the top of your head, who was the 3'rd person to set foot on the Moon ?

Hopefully Snowden's name falls into equal obscurity. But people remember that the event happened.

RE: Make no mistake
By TSS on 11/14/2013 3:56:05 AM , Rating: 1
Oh please. The US government is by now virtually entirely composed of traitors left and right. Confirmed by Snowden, no less.

I didn't see any trials of high treason or anything. Or even somebody getting fired. Nope, at the very least, snowden can't continue downloading and passing on sensitive information, more then he already has i mean, while these real traitors are still free to run amock in the US government. In fact, i would argue they are even more free to do so, given the lack of action and apathy by the people of the US. Afterall, if there aren't mass (talking millions not hundreds here) protests after *this* whole debacle, there will never be.

If those real, genuine traitors aren't getting punished why the hell should Snowden put himself in a position to be publically ostrasized then convicted as some common criminal, only to cover up the facts above even more?

Or worse. Be shipped off to Gitmo without a trail. WHICH IS STILL OPEN BY THE WAY. Ah fuck it, who the hell cares.....

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