Lavabit's Levison Now Avoids Email Altogether, Has Turned Into A 'Political Activist' Thanks To The NSA

from the unintended-effects dept

A couple of weeks ago, Mike reported on the extraordinary turn of events involving Edward Snowden's email supplier, Lavabit. The company's owner, Ladar Levison, preferred to shut down the service rather than hand over to the US government something that it wanted really badly -- exactly what, we don't know because of a gag order. We then learned that the mere act of shutting Lavabit down threatened to land Levison in big trouble anyway.

Reporting on comments he made recently at the Privacy Identity Innovation conference in Seattle, AllThingsD has a useful update on what he's doing currently. He says that he is still hopeful that the courts will allow him to re-start Lavabit; but until then, he is taking some rather extreme precautionary measures, avoiding email altogether:

Levison is making use of "the electronic equivalent of a methadone clinic" by messaging people through Facebook, LinkedIn, text and the new encrypted communication service Silent Circle. "I haven't needed a real and valid email address to register for something yet," he said.

"Anything that I consider sensitive, I try to talk about it to people in person, with my cellphone off, in an area where I know that nobody’s pointing a parabolic mic at me," Levison said. "If you're fighting the government that's what you need to do."
It's a little hard to reconcile that understandable concern that the NSA may be eavesdropping with his use of relative insecure services like Facebook, but presumably he knows what he is doing here. Maybe he only conducts relatively trivial conversations using them, saving more serious stuff for Silent Circle, and the really serious stuff for face-to-face meetings.

Levison's thoughts on communications and security are obviously of interest, but the key news that we learn from the AllThingsD piece is the following:

"I've had to switch from becoming a small business owner worrying about making payroll, to overnight becoming a political activist," Levison said.
The following hint of something big to come is intriguing:
Though he had suggested when he shut down Lavabit that he was at imminent risk of arrest, Levison said today he is "less worried" about that now. "What I'm more worried about is what I have planned for the future," he added ominously, then declined to elaborate.
What's significant is that the NSA's attempts to bully Levison into secret obedience have backfired badly, producing the opposite effect: in his own words, he's become a "political activist" -- one, moreover, who is technically savvy and has experience of dealing with the snoops. That makes him a hugely valuable ally for those wishing to bring some transparency and accountability to the US government's surveillance activities -- and an obvious problem for the NSA. No wonder he's worried about being spied upon.

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Reader Comments (rss)

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  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 4:18pm

    Especially avoid Gmail! NSA has "direct" access to Google servers.

    Google's $50 billion revenues don't come from old-fashioned advertising, ya know: they're targeted because use any and all information can gain from spying.

    Spying is the main 'business model' of the internet, especially for Google and Facebook.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
    identicon
    S. T. Stone, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 4:42pm

    Re: Especially avoid Gmail! NSA has "direct" access to Google servers.

    Go away.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 5:06pm

    I feel sorry for the guy. He refused to lie to his customers, even while being gagged to death by the secret rubber-stamp court.

    If he ever starts another privacy service, I'd sign up.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    PRMan, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 5:18pm

    Re: Especially avoid Gmail! NSA has "direct" access to Google servers.

    Google is heavily implying that what you're saying isn't the case and is in fact suing the government to make, what most believe, is exactly that point.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 5:21pm

    Ootb, you really should have laid off drugs during your younger days.

    Your levels of paranoia over Google are really over the top. We long ago got it you got a two by four up your ass for Google.

    Unlike the choice of your search engine, you don't get a choice with government. Google doesn't tote guns, doesn't arrest people, and doesn't attempt to assist in overthrowing other governments.

    You really need to go see a psychiatrist over your paranoia. At the rate your going, you could be the next unidentified shooter somewhere. That's not a good sign if you need a hint.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 6:46pm

    And if you wondered why secret meetings with tech companies happened, here's the reason why...

    Basically, we have a problem. Other national corporations realize that they are being spied upon. Any security within a US corporation is automatically suspect of being backdoor-ed by the US government, so a natural move would be to host those services over seas. I might be making a simple website devoted to veriohukainen, but with the US government basically calling me a terrorist, I might as well host my site on TeliaSonera's cloud hosting then Amazon's AWS. You wonder why tech companies sent lawyers to the meetings, I have a feeling that this is going to start major corporations to launch lawsuits against the US government.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    roarshock44, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 7:03pm

    i'm beginning to see the descriptive word paranoid in a very different light.  it's rapidly becoming a synonym for aware.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    PopeyeLePoteaux, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 7:20pm

    Re: Especially avoid Gmail! NSA has "direct" access to Google servers.

    Thick as a brick, as always.

    You can avoid Google and Facebook by, I don't know, NOT USING THEIR EFFING SERVICES.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    PopeyeLePoteaux, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 7:23pm

    Re:

    Well said, but someone as delusional as ootb doesn't care about facts, logic or any kind of evidence you can produce.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 7:25pm

    Re: Especially avoid Gmail! NSA has "direct" access to Google servers.

    Still less spying that the NSA does.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Werner Nieder, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 9:05pm

    Silent Circle is shutdown..I do not know what the author is talking about...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 9:10pm

    Re:

    If he becomes another unidentified shooter can we shoot him preemptively?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    icon
    pixelpusher220 (profile), Sep 18th, 2013 @ 9:14pm

    Re:

    no it isn't. They shut down their 'email' service, but not the phone and other stuff.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Baron von Robber, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 9:51pm

    Re: Especially avoid Gmail! NSA has "direct" access to Google servers.

    So sayeth Techdirt's Village Idiot.

    Every time ootb spouts something asinine, I seed another file. It's a little game I like to play. 1000+ and going strong. :-P

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Wolfy, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 11:33pm

    ootb

    Every time you talk about or respond to he/she/it, he/she/it wins. He/she/it's getting paid to derail honest debate.

    To help, techdirt could have a persistent "ignore" function, so you could click on an offending troll/shill, and never see their dubious comments ever again, until you are overcome with sentimentality, and unclick them, so you can remember why you hid them in the first place.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 18th, 2013 @ 11:36pm

    Re: ootb

    shutupandtakemymoney.gif

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    PaulT (profile), Sep 19th, 2013 @ 12:33am

    Re:

    There's been a saying for a long time - "it's not paranoia if they're really after you". There's always raving lunatics and people jumping at shadows (exhibit a: ootb above), but sometimes the paranoia is rooted in reality.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
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    PaulT (profile), Sep 19th, 2013 @ 12:36am

    Re:

    A little basic research is always nice before you start criticising others' knowledge:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Circle_(software)

    Silent Circle has numerous products, of which one was secure email. They shut down the email service after what happened to Lavabit, but the company and its other products are still running.

     

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  19.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), Sep 19th, 2013 @ 12:42am

    Re: ootb

    Another website I read regularly has a feature where you can not only ignore a particular user, but also any replies to him.

    As annoying as trolls are, I don't use it myself but from comments I've seen it magically makes a lot of conversations more intelligent and bearable as the click of a button!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    W H Nieder, Sep 19th, 2013 @ 1:21am

    Re: Re:

    Thank you for clearing up my error, PP!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 19th, 2013 @ 2:48am

    ootb is sort of right in a way but he/she needs to realize that google is just a dot on the canvas of a much larger picture.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Sep 19th, 2013 @ 5:42am

    Turn men into martyrs. That is what the US does best be it with terrorism, copyright or whatever other 'for the children' cause there may be.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    The Real Michael, Sep 19th, 2013 @ 5:55am

    What is the lesson here?

    Privacy -- it's a crime.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Sep 19th, 2013 @ 7:24am

    Re: ootb

    In order to make that work reliably, TD would no longer be able to have anonymous posting.

    Not sure the tradeoff would be worth it, as we do get some very good anonymous posts.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  

    FaiF is becoming a need

    My wish to found a company that releases free-as-in-freedom hardware, devoid of any technology under restrictive patents or binary-only firmware, that builds and releases a cheap plug server based on it, specialized on hosting decentralized, encrypted, free-as-in-freedom networking services, is starting to turn, not just on a desirable reality, but also in a need.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 19th, 2013 @ 8:10am

    Levison is an idiot

    He's using Facebook and LinkedIn? Both of which have been spamming from the moment they were launched? And he thinks this is somehow magically more secure than email?

    And he's using Silent Circle, which is quite obviously snake-oil encryption? (Silent Circle has been full of promises about how they're going to publish their source code. They haven't delivered. Until they do, there is zero reason to believe anything they say.)

    This guy's a first-class moron.

     

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  27.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Sep 19th, 2013 @ 9:10am

    Re: Levison is an idiot

    My thought as well. Kudos to him for not caving, but he really, seriously, hasn't thought this bit through.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
    icon
    Sheogorath (profile), Oct 3rd, 2013 @ 6:04pm

    Re: Re:

    I'ma go ready my shotgun. Where's ootb's computer?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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