Originally published November 6 2013
Lavabit founder battles Feds over SSL keys to protect Americans' email privacy
by L.J. Devon, Staff Writer
(NaturalNews) Just months ago, over 400,000 people were using email services provided by Lavabit. Now, no one is using the service, because the founder, Ladar Levison, has suspended operations.
At lavabit.com, Levison addresses the difficult decision he had to make. After the whistle was blown in the press about the NSA's massive email domestic spying program, Levison himself was approached by the FBI.
FBI approaches Lavabit founder demanding SSL keysIn the past, authorities would come to Levison with a government issued warrant, looking for specific information about an individual, and Levison would comply.
But that wasn't the case this time when the FBI approached him. This time, the FBI was demanding all of Lavabit's SSL keys, which are the digital keys that keeps everyone's personal emails secure from prying eyes.
If the government was to acquire Lavabit's SSL keys, then they would gain access to all passwords, login information and private metadata, including private chats and user accounts. The Feds could even gain access to credit card purchases and all users' living locations. Through this kind of mass data collection, federal agents can track people's purchases, gun ownership, religious and political beliefs, among other private information.
Levison doesn't comply, suspends Lavabit operationsBut Levison didn't comply. He stood by his promise to the people, refusing to hand over the SSL keys to the government. If he would have complied, he felt that he would have "become complicit in crimes against the American people," stating that he started the company in 2004 believing that "privacy is a fundamental and important right for any free society."
Levison stood by his mission and promise to provide users a secure email service. He also stood against a government willing to set a dangerous legal precedent.
On suspending his company, Levison said, "It was about protecting the Constitution."
In an interview, Levison told how he endured multiple visits from federal agents who bended the languages of laws to further intrude upon him and his business. In essence, the feds tried to coerce Levison into compliance and even tried turning his company into an example for why broad language is needed to justify the limitless collection of personal data. At the same time, Feds were looking for ways to bar businesses like Lavabit from telling its customers about the mass snooping operations.
Levison himself is even barred from openly speaking about the events surrounding his decision. He writes, "I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what's going on--the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests."
"Dark Mail" project under waySuspending Lavabit isn't the end for Levison, as he continues to work toward keeping the FBI and the NSA from gathering Americans' private information. He is already planning to team up with Silent Circle, a global encryption communication service, to launch what he calls "DarkMail."
The "Dark Mail Alliance" is to be a potential technical solution to massive government dragnet spying programs. There is potential for this invention to rebuild traditional email altogether. It could even be adopted by all email services across the board.
And the NSA is definitely not going to like this. The technology could make their data collection nearly impossible. It would take more than a court order or a simple sift through an internet cable to collect emails. The project is under way and could be used as early as 2014, if all goes well.
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