Feds Hit Lavabit With A Warrant Back In April, But Shutdown Likely Over Something Much Bigger

from the not-your-everyday-search-warrant dept

Last week we wrote about a security-focused email service known as Lavabit shutting down in response to some sort of court order (the details of which Lavabit’s founder, Ladar Levison, is barred from talking about). While most of the speculation has been about the claims that Ed Snowden has used a Lavabit email address, a reader points out to us that the government took an interest in Lavabit a few months before the whole Snowden affair started, issuing a search warrant concerning a Lavabit email account, Joey006@lavabit.com, back in March of this year, to be executed by April 11. From the affidavit supplied with the warrant, this involved an FBI investigation into child porn. It appears that Levison handed over a DVD in response to the warrant — though the details of this were only filed with the court on June 10th (on a document signed on June 7th, two days after the first of the Snowden documents had been revealed, but before Snowden’s name was revealed).

Either way, given the timing of all of this, it’s possible that the shutdown may have not involved Snowden or anything related to the NSA surveillance at all, but is the result of a totally unrelated case. Obviously, at this point, only the government and Levison actually know the details, but it does seem worth noting that the government has targeted Lavabit email addresses in the past. However, according to Levison himself, it seems clear that what they were asking for that made him shut down was quite a bit more involved than an ordinary search warrant. In an interview with Forbes, Levison stated that he’s cooperated in the past with government requests, noting that there have been about two dozen over the past decade.

Levison isn’t an privacy absolutist. He has cooperated in the past with government investigations. He says he’s received “two dozen” requests over the last ten years, and in cases where he had information, he would turn over what he had. Sometimes he had nothing; messages deleted from his service are deleted permanently.

“I’m not trying to protect people from law enforcement,” he said. “If information is unencrypted and law enforcement has a court order, I hand it over.”

In this case, it is the government’s method that bothers him. “The methods being used to conduct those investigations should not be secret,” he said.

That certainly suggests that what the government was asking for here wasn’t a mere search warrant for existing information associated with an account, but something more involved — such as a proactive wiretap on all future messages, something that you’d imagine the feds would be interested in on an account of someone such as Snowden.





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Comments on “Feds Hit Lavabit With A Warrant Back In April, But Shutdown Likely Over Something Much Bigger”

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40 Comments
out_of_the_blue says:

NOW time to criticize Google, Facebook, and those who go along.

“America cannot succeed as a country where individuals like Mr. Levison have to relocate their businesses abroad to be successful. Employees and leaders at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, and the rest of our internet titans must ask themselves why they aren’t fighting for our interests the same way small businesses are. The defense they have offered to this point is that they were compelled by laws they do not agree with, but one day of downtime for the coalition of their services could achieve what a hundred Lavabits could not.”

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/09/lavabit-shutdown-snowden-silicon-valley

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: NOW time to criticize Google, Facebook, and those who go along.

The article cited by blue has no new information to bring to light, and only points out the assumptions that almost everyone had when we all heard the Feds shut Lavabit down 4 days ago. So it could possibly be seen as an attempt to show the “Hypocracy” or flip-floppiness of the author of this article. Either way this article here on TechDirt is the up to date news and unfortunately for out_of_the_blue, Mike even says in this article that there is a deeper reason for Lavabit to be shut down outside of Snowden.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: NOW time to criticize Google, Facebook, and those who go along.

just standard Techdirt CENSORSHIP.. it’s what they do as opposed to free speech.

If they are not smart enough to respond to critical comments, they censor it..

It’s the TD way..

If they really don’t like your comments, they will block your IP address so you cant comment at all.

Techdirt does not agree with the constitution.. unless they can abuse it for their own gains.

Anonymous Coward says:

It should come as no surprise that when you read between the lines you get it wrong. It was poor journalism and it’s bitten you on the bum.

Unfortunately all your outrage and indignation now appears that it could be in defence of pedophiles.

There is an old saying that ‘when you assume you make an ass out of u and me’

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Accept, because of the gag order, all we are left with is assumptions. And it’s clear that he’s complied with the law where he has been ordered to in cases such of the joey006 as mentioned in the article. That means that there is something more ominous that a simple request for account information, especially if the services have ended yet he’s still willing to go to court.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It could be in defense of your right to wear womens panties as well.

If your going to run with hypothetical situations and draw conclusions from them, expect to be mocked.

Oh and if you RTFA, you’d note that he has in the past handed over information about pedophiles and others when he got a warrant. For him to shut down means they were seeking wider access, maybe that whole lets spy on everything on the internet and then sift it later thing they have been doing?

Reading is fundamental, what was left unsaid was – so is understanding what you read.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It should come as no surprise that when you read between the lines you get it wrong. It was poor journalism and it’s bitten you on the bum.

Not sure if you actually read the post, but, it hasn’t. In fact, the evidence suggests that it was closer to what we expected.

Unfortunately all your outrage and indignation now appears that it could be in defence of pedophiles.

No, actually, it doesn’t. Since it shows that he did cooperate in that case, but that this was something much larger.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I read both articles by you and the source you originally points to ( which then points to another source that says it unverifiable wether the lavabit address belongs to Snowden.

So guesswork gets piled upon supposition – everybody is guessing.

The only solid fact is that Lavabit has been ‘involved’ with the Law over Pedophillia.

“Since it shows that he did cooperate in that case, but that this was something much larger.”

So you see it shows nothing solid, just “reading between the lines”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The only solid fact is that Lavabit has been ‘involved’ with the Law over Pedophillia.

Yes, the act of them working with law enforcement is completely undone because “they’re pedophiles”.

No wait, you’re a reactionary moron. They cooperated with law enforcement up to a certain point and then told them that they weren’t going to have it anymore. There was a line that they didn’t want crossed that they were entirely within their rights to not have crossed by law enforcement

Your only argument for why they shouldn’t betray their morals and scruples is “BUT SOMEONE USING THEIR SERVICE MAY BE A PEDOPHILE!”. If you don’t understand why this argument is selfish, stupid, and writes a blank check for any type of government to trample all over the rights of it’s citizens, then you barely deserve to use a computer to communicate the mush you consider “Your opinion”.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Unfortunately all your outrage and indignation now appears that it could be in defence of pedophiles.

BUH-BUH-BUH-BUH-BUUUHH THINK OF THE CHILLENS!

You’ve missed the entire point of the article to spout your worthless “But he’s a pedophile! everyone should lay down their rights to catch them!” mantra and exposing your own self-conceited, arrogant viewpoint. You are truly why we can’t discuss anything rationally in this society. I genuinely with you not share your ignorant, self-absorbed “opinion” with anyone else here again.

Giving information away with request from a warrant? Fine. Cooperating with law enforcement? Fine.

Installing a black box that scoops up all traffic (saving it later for “safe keeping” of course), and undermining the privacy ToS which was forged with the customers of your site? Not okay. Not okay at all no matter how much you want to wave the “but you’re a pedophile if you disagree” flag.

Frankly you and your brainless, knee-jerk reactions can shove it. Go flap around like a chicken with your head cut off elsewhere.

Hark, I hear your masters ringing a little bell (it sounds like “FOR THE CHILDREN, FOR THE CHILDREN”), it must be feeding time in your hamster cage.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You didn’t read what I said at all.

I never said anything about justification for shutting down the site, or even anything about the site at all really.
I’m talking about the FACTs contained in the articles vs speculation.
One of these things (FACTS) being sound journalism and the other being no better than gossip.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I never said anything about justification for shutting down the site, or even anything about the site at all really.
I’m talking about the FACTs contained in the articles vs speculation.

And your whole post is shallow speculation, with the implication that Lavabit is a haven for pedophiles.

I’ll take this moment to remind you that most people in these comments show no sympathy for hypocrites.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

FACTS sure didn’t seem to interest you when you made that little hateful remark that Levison is colluding or defending pedophiles.

Which is one of the most spiteful ways you can assassinate someone’s character. I would have been less offended by your post if you had called him a racial slur of some kind, because then at least it wouldn’t have your dishonest rhetoric which implied that he had done something heinous and wrong.

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Assumptions

For him to have shut down the entire service over warrants for one account doesn’t make sense, which is why it makes sense when you think there has to be far more important stuff being dealt with.

Perhaps the indignation was premature, but I’d like to err on the side of ‘perhaps he was hiding something we don’t know anything about’ and it was an actual criminal investigation.

In that case, he should have kept his mouth shut, and not even discussed that he had a warrant for it, because that sets off all kinds of questions, especially where he’d cooperated before.

Why shut down for one account unless your entire system is infiltrated and infested with illegal content. Unfortunately in that case, the feds are right to ask for more stuff and get it.

It makes him complicit in shutting it all down. Like he’s hiding something. Time will tell, and so will court orders.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Assumptions

Why shut down for one account unless your entire system is infiltrated and infested with illegal content.

It’s very clear it wasn’t for one account. But if I were in his shoes, I’d shut it down, too. It has nothing to do with being “infested with illegal content” and everything to do with doing right by your users. If your service is promising security and you can’t deliver it, the only ethical thing to do is to shut down.

Unfortunately in that case, the feds are right to ask for more stuff and get it.

Only if they have a warrant, and the site’s past behavior has shown that they honor warrants, so that’s a red herring.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Assumptions

Why shut down for one account unless your entire system is infiltrated and infested with illegal content.

Why don’t we just install a camera in your home and inside your toilet? Why not read all your mail and record all your telephone calls? Why not just rip out your tongue so you can’t ever communicate with someone again?

It’s clearly infested with illegal content if you disagree.

The intent and will to not screw over your legitimate customers because of bad apples in your system shows he has a moral compass. He made a decision to protect the 99.9% of legal users.

Maybe if they wanted to cooperate with him, they should have done it the traditional way that he was more than willing to cooperate with. Instead of insisting that he falls in lock-step with the insane stupidity that has been imposed upon the service providers of our era.

But no, him wanting to maintain privacy and security for his users means he’s “hiding something”. Let’s just believe the Government’s golden tongue. They would never lie to us unlike this Creepy peeeeedooooo!

Gosh I can’t imagine why our government would ever lie or request something unreasonable from anyone!

Anonymous Coward says:

US Gov wanted a backdoor in Lavabit’s email software, so they could intercept user passwords an decrypt, the encrypted email messages.

It’s the only obvious explanation.

Levison had no problems handing over encrypted information to investigators, but investigators don’t want to spend computational resources cracking user passwords. That costs time and money.

Instead, they most likely wanted a backdoor installed in the encryption software. That would make their job easy as pie.

Anonymous Coward says:

Wow

Holy Christ — is half the world retarded?

Everything is speculation. The best guess at why Lavabit shut down is to protect users from an order to obtain future information, i.e., passwords to facilitate decryption of private keys on the server. Pure speculation.

Second, whether there is child porn or grandma’s cookie recipes on the servers, under law, it is the government’s responsibility to make their affirmative case against whomever based on probable cause, not a fishing expedition. That would require a warrant, which LB rightly would comply with.

Moron.

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