Feds Threaten To Arrest Lavabit Founder For Shutting Down His Service

from the either-you-help-us-spy-on-people-or-you're-a-criminal dept

The saga of Lavabit founder Ladar Levison is getting even more ridiculous, as he explains that the government has threatened him with criminal charges for his decision to shut down the business, rather than agree to some mysterious court order. The feds are apparently arguing that the act of shutting down the business, itself, was a violation of the order:

… a source familiar with the matter told NBC News that James Trump, a senior litigation counsel in the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, Va., sent an email to Levison’s lawyer last Thursday – the day Lavabit was shuttered — stating that Levison may have “violated the court order,” a statement that was interpreted as a possible threat to charge Levison with contempt of court.

That same article suggests that the decision to shut down Lavabit was over something much bigger than just looking at one individual’s information — since it appears that Lavabit has cooperated in the past on such cases. Instead, the suggestion now is that the government was seeking a tap on all accounts:

Levison stressed that he has complied with “upwards of two dozen court orders” for information in the past that were targeted at “specific users” and that “I never had a problem with that.” But without disclosing details, he suggested that the order he received more recently was markedly different, requiring him to cooperate in broadly based surveillance that would scoop up information about all the users of his service. He likened the demands to a requirement to install a tap on his telephone.

It sounds like the feds were asking for a full on backdoor on the system, not unlike some previous reports of ISPs who have received surprise visits from the NSA.

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Comments on “Feds Threaten To Arrest Lavabit Founder For Shutting Down His Service”

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rjoguillory (profile) says:

Re: Re:

….I worked for US DoD for almost 25 years…over two decades as a protected whistle-blower…they abused and hounded me (still are) for years..because I would not go along with, nor cover-up the illegal conduct they were involved in…now…having lived /worked in Japan, Germany, Bosnia, Hungary, Croatia…Korea…etc…one would get the impression that my “whistle-blower” status is related to some deep, dark defense secret…some 007 type information that puts me in the cross-hairs of a Michael hasting type death….
…but actually..what they wanted me to do…was repackage out-of-date Burger King Whopper Meat….and sell it to unsuspecting Japanese locals…when i refused..they came down like a ton of bricks…except that I secretly tape -recorded the threats…and they “lost”..your government is corrupt to it’s core..and we should be holding Grand Juries for treason and war-crimes..impeaching and convicting a lot of people..and hanging them immediately…


RJ O’Guillory
Webster Groves – The Life of an Insane Family

M. Alan Thomas II (profile) says:

If the order included production of evidence stored on their servers and he destroyed that evidence in shutting down the service, that’s an offense. I’m not sure if that’s still true if the order was illegal. And if it was legal, I’m not 100% opposed to civil disobedience (although you would expect the consequences if you knew that was what you were doing).

On othe other hand, I’m guessing that you can’t destroy evidence that doesn’t exist, so a purely prospective order doesn’t have the same concerns attached to it. I could believe the U.S. Attorney’s Office bullying someone without legal grounds, though.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

He complied to court orders before. I am guessing these court orders were of the “produce what you have on your servers” kind. He says this one was different. So, I am guessing this one was not of the “produce what you have on your servers” kind.

What it was, we can only guess. That is a problem the ones producing secret orders face: those left out of the loop will imagine the worst.

So, let’s start the guessing game? Ordered from bad to worse.

* Putting a backdoor which will save everything done by one user.
* Putting a backdoor which will save the password typed by one user.
* Putting a backdoor which will save everything done by all users.
* Putting a backdoor which will save the password typed by all users.
* Putting code which will attempt to invade the computer of one or more users, as was done this month on Freedom Hosting, by the FBI or the NSA.

Any other one I missed? Since we have to assume the worst, my current guess is “they wanted to add code to Lavabit to invade the user’s computer”.

Manabi (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

* Putting code which will attempt to invade the computer of one or more users, as was done this month on Freedom Hosting, by the FBI or the NSA.

I gotta say, I still don’t understand that. Because they put it up indiscriminately on all the sites Freedom Hosting hosted, including all the most definitely not illegal ones (like TorMail), the resulting data they got is totally useless. They couldn’t (or maybe that’s shouldn’t) be able to even use it to get a warrant, because they have no way to prove the IP in question actually was trying to access a site with illegal content (like child porn) instead of something like TorMail. The reality of the situation would be “well Your Honor, we have this IP that might have tried to access a child porn site, but it might not have and we’d like a warrant…” I can’t see that flying in even the FISA court.

So either it was incompetence on a grand scale, or someone didn’t think things through very well…

Eponymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I think you misunderstand their motives on this in that they weren’t out for actionable evidence to be used in court, but instead to locate targets for further operations. Once they decide to pursue legal action against a target they’ll then retcon their reason for probable cause, or how they discovered the evidence to erase any trace of their surveillance. At least this is how I see it.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 They're already sharing with the DoJ

…and requesting that they launder the evidence.

Which implies that laundering the evidence trail to bypass forth-amendment protections has been a common practice for some time now.

Note the whole to bypass forth-amendment protections part, because that’s why there’s an evidence trail in the first place.

Crime committed to serve the state is still crime.

The Real Michael says:

Re: Re: Re:3 They're already sharing with the DoJ

So true. They’re intentionally violating the 4th Amendment in an effort to find people to target, profile and criminalize. I’m sure that if it were possible for them to monitor everybody at all times, they’d find a slew of illegal activity. However, that would defeat the entire purpose of the Constitution — to protect the people from government overreach.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well, they attempted to ‘obfuscate’ a client side language which was de-‘obfuscated’ in about 10 minutes and we know who it was because they hard coded an ip address.Really,the entire thing was implemented in the most ass backward way possible given the level of access they clearly had.I’d say we are fairly safe assuming incompetence is present here lol.

In fact, that is the real reason we should be terrified.The best and brightest in the field aren’t generally pining to get into a gov job lol (gov should also remember this if they want to keep pushing the boundaries in a place that they are not the home team). All that data is stored and protected by government IT people. Except that the way the nsa has decided to deal with the snowden situation is by getting rid of all of its network admins.So now,it won’t just be incompetent gov IT safeguarding your data that you have to fear,its that no one will be.

Edward says:

Re: Response to: M. Alan Thomas II on Aug 16th, 2013 @ 3:58pm

Evidence is a legal term. It implies there is a crime or civil cause of action that would tend to be proven by the information. Domestic spying involves a dragnet that does not assert that there is specific evidence sought, just all information under his control during a specific time frame. I’m under the understanding Lavabit does not store metadata or content.
That is why the argument the Bully (good one Alana) is making is for contempt of court. Apparently they sought to dragnet future information which he foiled by shutting down. Apparently the Bully thinks it can order you to work for them. The question will be can the Bully force a person or business to work as an informant without his or its consent. Recently a court via a search warrant tried to order doctors to pump a man’s stomach for cocaine. They refused. They won.

znmeb (profile) says:

Re: lawyers and all that

Well, neither of us know all the facts, but one of his public statements implied there were things he couldn’t even discuss with his own lawyer! I’m deeply suspicious of that claim, but if that was in fact the case and it happened to me, I wouldn’t go public like he did, and I wouldn’t go to the press. But I’d call a lawyer anyway, and I’d call my Congressman and Senators for good measure.

Cloudsplitter says:

Re: Re:

If the Federal scum want to bring that into an open court room let them try, they would have to expose their so called secret court order, and its back ground support in the law. From where I sit the FISA Court and the NSA, are both on clearly shakey constitutional grounds, jurry nullification is still an important freedom fighting tool in this American Republic.

Marcus says:

Re: Re:

Yes our country that is going off the deep end but most of the people of the United States are shocked and want to put an end to the domestic spying program and abolish the Patriot Act. Unfortunately our politicians have listened to others instead of We The People. It’s unbelievable our nation that use to be considered the land of the free is now turning into anything but the land of freedom. Sadly a lot of US citizens really don’t care and figure “if it protects us from terrorist attacks then I’m all for it”. Others figure that anyone who wants the Patriot Act along with the DHS and the TSA abolished is a supporter of terrorism. Most US citizens are not willing to give up freedom for a false sense of security and see right through the NSA when they tell us that it is necessary for them to spy on us to keep our nation safe from terrorists. We want the old USA back!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The velvet glove is off the mailed fist.

You’re an idiot!!!!

I choose to use google and they can have some of my info in exchange for the services they provide. I CHOOSE TO DO THAT!!!!! If I don’t like it, I can use other services – and there are plenty of other service providers that I can CHOOSE to use.

I DID NOT CHOOSE for the government to do so. I HAVE NO CHOICE in the matter, if I don’t like it, well tough shit for me (everybody).

If you don’t understand that simple fundamental difference, then as I opened, you’re an IDIOT!!!

Tionico says:

Re: Re: The velvet glove is off the mailed fist.

major difference between your choice to use sellout Google, and Lavabit’s users choice was based on Lavabit’s policies of security, privacy, encryption, etc. Now Uncle Stupid is ripping the lid off the distinctive Lavabit used to have… no option. It truly IS a mailed fist with the velvet removed…. there is now no question the intent, and power behind, that fist. There SHOULD be rioting in the streets at such a travesty of liberty. This is a step way beyond anything acceptible. What, will Lavabit’s owner have to seek asylum in Russia like Snowden has done?

Cloudsplitter says:

Re: Re: Re: The velvet glove is off the mailed fist.

Constitutional Readjustment tool- cheap no name 22lr, front sight filed off, will take no named scope, one liter plastic coke bottle, duck tape- black, use your imagination, learn to shoot stright, extra coke bottles-don’t drink the coke its not good for you. The Second Amendment was put there for a reason.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The velvet glove is off the mailed fist.

Cripes, I am pretty sure that was his whole point.

Lavabit was providing a service so that people who don’t like how Google and others handle things can have options.

Seeing as the whole PRISM thing makes a lot of people wary of Gmail, it’s not unreasonable.

I understand the author of the comment has a sordid past around here, but once in awhile the comments aren’t just trolling or ad hominems

Anonymous Coward says:

Sounds like the US Gov. wanted to intercept all user passwords for Lavabit, so they can decrypt and read all email messages stored on Lavabit.

If Lavabit’s software sent un-hashed user passwords over the wire, then a ethernet splitter inside Lavabit’s LAN would be able to intercept ALL user passwords.

If Lavabit’s software sent hashed user passwords over the wire, then it would require a backdoor built into Lavabit’s email software to intercept user passwords.

I believe Lavabit sends un-hashed passwords over the wire, so more than likely the US Gov. wanted to install an ethernet splitter inside Lavabit’s LAN (local area network), and intercept all user passwords.

Similar to the ethernet splitters used in AT&T and Verizon networks.

Manabi (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Or Lavabit sent hashed passwords and the US government wanted to install a device to do a man-in-the-middle attack, pretending to be Lavabit’s authentication server, but really just saving all information typed and passing it along to the real authentication server to authenticate the user. They could have done a perfect one, demanding Lavabit provide their SSL certificates for the MITM device to use so no one would notice.

I think that’s more likely, Lavabit focused enough on security it’s unlikely they were sending cleartext passwords over the wire.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

No, passwords we’re not sent in cleartext over the wire…

First off they are called fiber optic splitters.
The traffic is encrypted, passwords are hashed.
The storage on the servers is encrypted and can’t be unencrypted by Lavabit, only by the client with their password.

The order was probably for access to the storage, which would require the users password, ie implementing the ability to get the users password.

jms says:

Re: Re:

They wouldn’t have to install a splitter inside Lavabit’s LAN. They could install it just outside Lavabit’s connection to the internet. They wouldn’t even have to tell Lavabit about it.

No, I think it’s the backdoor option. I’ll bet Lavabit hashes passwords and only sends encrypted email, so they wanted them to install a backdoor in the client software. That would be a “markedly different” order that would justify shutting down their business.

My takeaway from this is that we are beginning to understand the importance of open-source privacy software like PGP. A proprietary security/encryption program could be rock solid — unbreakable — or perhaps not if the NSA were able to get to the author with a FISA order. If the software were open-source and people around the world were scrutinizing any alterations to the source code and compiling the software themselves, it would be very hard — perhaps impossible — to slip in any backdoors. I felt in the 1990s that the developing internet protocols should have all included strong encryption. I never thought that it would be to protect Americans from the government. Yet here we are.

Wally (profile) says:


Whilethere was a warrant on one of Lavabits’ users accounts who was under investigation, for trafficking child porn, issued back in April. Just this month Lavabit was told to shut down pending an investigation….and now that they shut down…they face federal charges?

Does anyone else see this as a repeat of Megaupload’s shut down save the fact that Megaupload was ordered to keep its “infringing” data as evidence? It’s the same yet in a totally opposite direction.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Ok...just...wow...

Uh, not exactly, might want to go over the articles again Wally. Lavabit had shut down rather than comply with what they felt was an unjust/illegal court-order, and given they had shown a willingness in the past to deal with law enforcement to investigate individuals, and the hints that have been dropped that this time was way bigger than those, I’d say whatever the order was, it was probably huge, along the lines of ‘backdoor access to the entire system’ huge.

Cloudsplitter says:

Re: Ok...just...wow...

That did not work to well with Mega Uploads since legally the US government had no one to serve since Mega was a foreign entity with no US ties, other then foolishly using a server base in the US. The real deal here is that this government is out to destroy the multi billion dollar US computer industry, it will not take long before people realize that like the internet the work around is to off shore everything, run your secure email systems from Iceland, or Cyprus, there’s a place looking for a new industry, and no love for the west that killed its last one, and looted its peoples wealth, and no servers, or comm traffic through the US, as Washington has shown
by its action that it can not be trusted. people will pay good money for security. Cuba as a trans atlantic communication and cable nexus to Central and South America, Mexico as the hub from the Pacific. The unintended consequences of this governments actions is going to be the future of the American computer industry.

Rich Fiscus (profile) says:

It’s too bad the Washington Post doesn’t have half Ladar Levison’s sense of civic responsibility. Remember that the next time they try to sell you the line about being public servants holding the government accountable on your behalf. If that were true we would have been reading John Delong’s remarks today right next to a giant picture of a middle finger. Instead we got an excuse for caving in to the White House.

The media cares more about their special relationships with government officials than informing the public. Fourth Estate my ass!

Robert says:

Re: Re:

More likely they are pissed off by reading into what Ladar Levison meant by ‘SUSPENDING’ the service versus permanently terminating it ie screw you, I am not your stoolie slave, I will regain the quality of my honour and integrity be relocating the service over seas.
The threats are utterly empty and are nothing more than the ego spouting of the individual agents concerned.

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

Do I really have to say it? The federal government certainly has a lot of chutzpah for complaining about Lavabit shutting down rather than cooperate with secret subpoenas issued by a secret court for secret spying.

Not even the federal government has the right to force a business, company, corporation or website to continue operating simply because they are going to lose the right to spy on Americans.

Good grief, has the federal government been taken over by Scooby Doo?

dave (profile) says:

Re: US govt takenover by Scoobie Doo

Clearly the US govt is run by mass murdering, toturing war criminal scum. Vote with your wallet and boycott all US products! The citizens of the US who have failed to hold their war crims accountable only seem to ‘get’ 1 thing, money, so starve the evil artificial psychopathic entity to death then hold the individuals who compose the BEAST personally and individually accountable at international war crimes tribunals!!!!

Urgelt (profile) says:

Democracy, Anyone?

The FISA court’s rulings are secret. We aren’t allowed to know how they interpret Federal statutes.

FISA court orders are secret. We aren’t allowed to know what they order people to do.

In the last two years, the FISA court has approved every government request for surveillance submitted to it – including requests for mass surveillance of American citizens’ phone and internet communications.

FISA court proceedings are not adversarial. No dissenting argumentation is permitted.

We only know about all of this stuff because Snowden leaked documents (illegally).

How can anyone reach a conclusion different from Jimmy Carter’s conclusion? He said that America no longer has a functioning democracy. I’m finding it very difficult to disagree with him.

How can we take back our democracy, folks? It seems to have been stolen from us.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Democracy, Anyone?

I understand your point, but I disagree. Influential voices reaching large audiences are important, but what’s even more important is people hearing their neighbor’s opinions.

Lots of people won’t take a position (even if they agree with it in their heart) if they feel like they’re the weirdo for taking the position. The only way to make those people feel less isolated is for them to hear similar opinions from their friends, family, and neighbors.

While it’s not the total solution (no single thing is!), speaking your voice to other individuals is not only nothing like “old man yells at cloud”, it’s an essential activity.

David says:

Re: Democracy, Anyone?

Oh, it’s worse than that. The FISC only gets to see what the NSA wants it to see, and still there were more than 2500 violations of rules in 2012, most of them unintentional. So there are regular intentional violations of the FISC regulations that are reported, and they can choose themselves what to report. There are apparently no consequences either.

PT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Democracy, Anyone?

I wrote to my congresscritter to ask why he voted against the Amash amendment. Part of his reply reads as follows:

[S]ince this disclosure a substantial amount of misinformation about these programs has been spread, mostly through independent, unaccountable media sources. … The simple truth is that this authority has thwarted 54 terrorist plots since its creation.

If this is what you get from a member of a group allegedly committed to reducing the size of the Federal Government, there is no hope.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Democracy, Anyone?

Speaking of ‘misinformation’, sounds like another congresscritter getting his talking points straight from the NSA’s PR department.

I do love the ‘independent, unaccountable media sources’ bit, he might as well have come out and called them what he’s probably really thinking, that of ‘sources that don’t answer to the government’.

mrsethshoe says:

Re: Democracy, Anyone?

We actually never had a democracy until about now…. This is what democracy looks like with an “elected ruling elite”. What we used to have was a Republic and that is long gone… That was where the people actually held their elected officials accountable.

And all this govt spying is absolutely just another go round of the Nazi SS and the whole “see something, say something” where we start to turn neighbor against neighbor and end up with mass genocides – ours which would be just taking out the “terrorists” I.e. Govt dissenters.

If George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and several others saw us now, they would be mortified at what we the people have let happen to this great country – everything from Pres Lincoln and his forcing states to comply (which was a huge overstep of the federal govt – and yes, I do think all people are created equal and slavery was wrong but he fixed the problem the wrong way) to the creation of our illegal currency we are forced to use today (the Treasury is still the only one legally allowed to print legal tender and mint coins). It goes so much further than this aggregious overstep, I’m not sure it can be fixed without a major overhaul which will not be pretty – esp with all those who rely on govt handouts for their daily living.

Naner says:

Re: Democracy, Anyone?

The answer to that question is in a newly released book called, “The Liberty Ammendments”, by Mark Levin. The Constitution has been breached all the way around by all the politicians independent, democrat, and republican…the book explains how the people at the bottom are going to have to amend the constitution at the state level and 3/4 of the states must vote in the additional ammendments…..Congress and President have no say or convention….Article V, Section II, written by George Mason in the final two days before ratification, wanted to make sure that if the leaders became corrupt, that the people had recourse of their own accord, before another revolution would have to take place: The country is a state centered country with a minimal federal government, until Woodrow Wilson, the first progressive president, installed the income tax and added the 17th amendment: the people vote on Senators instead of state legislators…..this has been detrimental to the people because the states are closer to the people and the senators used to be beholden to their constituents directly…now these jackwagons get to DC and they are only worried about themselves and their party, and screw the people……bottom line, it is up to each one of us to change this metastasized cancer that is our Federal Government.

Anonymous Coward says:

There is a difference between a hashed password, and a clear text password encrypted with SSL/TLS.

So you are correct about needing the Certificate Authorities private key, in order to see clear text passwords encrypted with SSL/TLS, and encapsulated in a TCP/IP packet.

Unless SSL/TLS ‘forward secrecy’ is being used. In which case, have the Certificate Authorities private key won’t do an adversary any good, because the session key keeps rotating forward to a new, unique, key for each new connection made to the server. Very few companies have implemented ‘forward secrecy’ though. It’s still a new technology.

However, if the passwords are hashed before being encrypted with SSL/TLS and encapsulated inside a TCP/IP packet. Then having the Certificate Authorities private key doesn’t do an adversary any good. All the adversary would be see when looking inside the decrypted packet, would be a hashed password instead of a clear text password.

If Lavabit did send clear text passwords encrypted with SSL/TLS, then we can conclude that the US Government does not have access to Lavabit’s Certificate Authorities private key. If the Gov. did have access to it, they could have just captured the packets at one of the major backbone routers on the internet, instead of contacting Lavabit and trying to get them to comply.

It’s interesting, because every time the US Gov. makes a move, we can deduce a little more about their technical capabilities.

I could have sworn I read somewhere that Lavabit does not used hashed passwords. If true, then we’ve just learned that US Gov. does not have access to all, or least some, of the private keys for Certificate Authorities around the world.

Sorry for geeking out. I just find cryptography interesting. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:


Very few companies have implemented ‘forward secrecy’ though.
It’s still a new technology.

The Diffie-Hellman key exchange algorithm achieves forward
secrecy and it is 37 years old. SSL 3.0 included ephemeral DH
key exchange ciphersuites and that was released in 1996.

It is hardly a new technology, its lack of deployment is mostly
down to apprehension (“will this slow down my service?”) and
laziness (“can’t be bothered, it works already and my private
key is secure”).

Lance says:

Re: Certificate authority

You can be your own Certificate Authority. The reason it’s not commonly done is that both parties in the communication have to have a shared CA key. Browsers ship with root cents for most of the commercial CA’s out there which avoids the need for users to go out and get a cert. Being your own CA would mean you’d have to ship root certain to all your users.

Of course then the govt would just come to the company and require them to hand over the root cert.

How long until they start requiring this of non-communication businesses, like GE or Exxon-Mobil?

Saltynoob says:

Four elements of contempt

Ya know the feds might just get away with it.

A person found in contempt of court is called a “contemnor.” To prove contempt, the prosecutor or complainant must prove the four elements of contempt:
1)Existence of a lawful order
2)The potential contemnor’s knowledge of the order
3)The potential contemnor’s ability to comply
4)The potential contemnor’s failure to comply

Judging by Lavabit’s own statements. He is guilty of the last three, but the first element is problematic. The lawyer would have to prove it wasn’t a lawful order. By common sense standards obviously no, but were not dealing with common sense.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Four elements of contempt

I would argue that Lavabit (the company itself) did not have the “ability” to comply with the order because doing so would destroy the trust that is the foundation of their business model. Can the Federal Government really force a company to choose between flat-out lying to their customer base or committing financial suicide?

I would also argue that “failure to comply” wouldn’t be applicable since shutting down the company beforehand removed the ability to comply.

Saltynoob says:

Re: Re: Four elements of contempt

Hey Gwiz
Being the arm chair lawyer that I am I would say your first point doesn’t matter in the courts eyes. This is not a financial court case issue. So I think trust is an irreverent aspect.

Your second point is applicable because he shut down the server after receiving “””something”””. What we don’t know,but we all assume it was a backdoor request/don’t say nothing letter.

Could be wrong though, Ive been though 10 minutes of internet/google search lawyer school.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Four elements of contempt

Your first point rests on what ‘reasonableness’ is and in this respect what the ‘norm’ of other organisations in the same sector also do (ie: google, Yahoo, Facebook, ISP’s et. al.)

Your second point though is highly relevant. Since it brings into question how much control an actual private owner has over their own company when it effects allegedly (I’m going to assume it was not a warrant/subpoena to produce evidence) some fishing expedition by the authorities that may or may not produce relevant evidence for future & unknown cases.

The USG is basically (Based on the information we have) stating… “we require you to give us access to your business data and keep running the business for as long as we deem necessary no matter the consequences or burdens placed upon said business and if you violate this by enacting the absolute lawful right of liquidating the property (business) at your whim we will prosecute you for contempt of authority”

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Four elements of contempt

(I’m going to assume it was not a warrant/subpoena to produce evidence)

Yes. I am making that assumption also.

If it was the normal “preserve and/or turn over this evidence” type of order, shutting down the company wouldn’t even be an issue for the Feds since it wouldn’t matter either way. It’s pretty obvious now that this order required the service to continue in order to be effective.

PS @ Saltynoob: I am not a lawyer either. Just your average working stiff with an inquiring mind.

GreatWhiteWalrus (profile) says:

Re: Four elements of contempt

The ability to comply, in this instance, only exists as long as the business exists. Lavabit is in no way obligated to stay in business, for any reason whatsoever. Therefore, failure to comply is also invalid when the business no longer exists.

One might liken this to the IRS demanding that you maintain or increase your level of income(and thus taxes paid) year over year, or face prosecution for failure to comply. The only thing that Lavabit may be liable for, if at all, is failure to comply with the order in accordance with its existing capability.

In any event, the inexorable march toward a police state continues.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:


Big mistake by the government. If they wanted this kept quiet, its a huge tactical mistake that will be an all out strategic mistake.

We argued on the last story whether him having to shut down his business gave him standing to challenge this in open court. Now there’s no question – he’s being threatened by the government with imprisonment.

Anonymous Coward says:

I made a mistake about Certificate Authorities in my above post. Having the Certificate Authorities private key, would allow man-in-the-middle attacks. As mentioned by the above poster.

The only thing a Certificate Authority does is hold the public key for Lavabit’s server.

Lavabit’s private key is stored on Lavabit’s server, itself.

So it does indeed appear the US Gov. is after access to Lavabit’s private session key, stored on it’s servers.

Ken (user link) says:

government agents need to do prison time

We’ve gone past the point where just getting our freedom back is the order of the day.

These government agents all need to stand trial for treason.

Once we get our freedom back, the government agents who have participated in the destruction of American freedom and the abrogation of Constitutional law need to be subjected to Nuremberg style trials.

Laser Guided Loogie

Anonymous Coward says:

these types of ‘requests’ from the NSA or other law enforcement/security agencies put the receiver(s) between a rock and a hard plate. you are screwed if you do what they want when your customers discover that you complied and you are screwed if you dont because you are then threatened, or worse, with arrest, prosecution and conviction. and that is something that needs addressing now! how can Congress and others allow companies, the heads or others be treated in such a way that the choice they have is go to prison or go broke! that is disgraceful!!

Eponymous Coward says:

What's the next Lavabit?

Not being very technical myself, I wonder where this will go with new services coming up to counter these operations. Basically if Lavabit were Napster what will be the eventual ?torent? Will it be a distributed, encrypted, email service not prone to this line of attack since it lacks a central hub? Or will it be something totally different then my too easy comparison? Whatever it is I hope smarter minds than mine are working on it now!

Ben S (profile) says:

Re: What's the next Lavabit?

BitMessage is an attempt at a completely distributed email service using public/private key pairs. Your public key also acts as your email address with this system. They’re currently looking for security experts to test the current cryptography, so there is a question as to the degree of security, but there has been at least one person to answer the call, break the crypto, and send the creators of the program a fix for the issue.

Ben S (profile) says:

Re: Re: What's the next Lavabit?

I forgot to mention, the keys aren’t really interacted with by the user, merely saved then used automatically as needed. Aside from your public key acting as an email address, you don’t need to see the keys at all. The public key is also just text, so one can copy/paste the one line as a key quite easily. This gets rid of the hassle for the casual user, while still providing the protection you’re after.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What's the next Lavabit?

The encryption technologies to protect communications exist, and requires user involvement if key creation, key exchange and encryption messages. Asking a third party service to deal with these issues introduces potential man in the middle attacks.
At a fundamental level, security and convenience are incompatible.

Ben S (profile) says:

Re: Re:

That’s not necessarily true. If the officers are coming with a warrant for specific information, and not one from the secret courts, it means the request was subject to actual oversight, and deemed worthy of obtaining the information because law enforcement was able to prove there’s just cause to have that information revealed.

thejynxed (profile) says:

Lavabit & evidence

They are going to get him for destruction of evidence and obstruction of an ongoing investigation.

There was a similar case locally a few years ago, where a small mom & pop ISP got into a bit of a bind because they swapped to newer equipment (a new database server). The regional drug task force and the DEA + FBI had “requested” they maintain the older server while they completed the investigation of someone running a rather large meth lab who happened to be a customer of their ISP.

The new system they installed had software that was incompatible with the data formats they previously used for email and account storage, and when they swapped, the old stuff went “poof”.

Needless to say the owner barely got out of being jailed themselves, but did have to pay a rather large fine, perform community service, and was reprimanded by a judge.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Lavabit & evidence

They are going to get him for destruction of evidence and obstruction of an ongoing investigation.

Possibly. But I see a couple problems with the government’s case if they choose that tact:

1) This really doesn’t seem like it was a normal “warrant/subpoena to produce evidence”. Lavabit has stated that they have complied with those in the past.

2) Shutting down the company doesn’t really indicate that any data wasn’t preserved. Lavabit would have to be fools to destroy anything at this point. The Feds seem more pissed about the service shutting down (ie: access to future info) than any evidence that already exists.

Anonymous Coward says:

Went to DMV with friend so she could acquire US driver license.

While waiting in line one dude in line in front of us suddenly bolted and rain out door with cops in pursuit.

Found out later he had unknown to him warrant out for his arrest.

Ask later what meaning of warrant is in this location.

Warrant is issued for anything from unpaid parking ticket to maximum.

Also ask about traffic computer cameras.

Found out that warrants are issued for unpaid camera traffic citations.

Can hear this now.

Black guy goes to DMV to renew driver license shot in back for unknown camera traffic citation.

Welcome to the police state of America.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Unbreakable encryption

There is encryption that is as good as unbreakable, which is to say that hacking it would take an unreasonable length of time (millenna or even eons) unless the analyst got very, very lucky.

This doesn’t take into account advancements in technology. Quantum computers can break ElGamal encryption, on which most secure webcommunications depend. The NSA doesn’t have one, but they’re having a D-Wave installed in the Utah base (it’s not done being built yet).

After that, we’ll have to find a better way to encrypt our data… which will be a necessity even if we shut down the NSA, as that will only delay time before some nation (e.g. Germany) has a Quantum-computer-equipped cyber-intelligence agency. We’re ultimately going to have to accept that our communications are being observed by people who don’t like us.

We can counter cryptanalytic efforts by encrypting everything, and if necessary adding decoy messages into the mix. This would require such agencies to triage their workload (quantum machines are still expensive to obtain and run).

Sometimes cryptanalysis will be ahead of encryption. Sometimes vice versa, but this way we reduce the probability that our data is prioritized over someone else’s data. It also increases the likelihood that what they are decrypting is useless data (letters to Aunt Millie) rather than meaningful data (your company books for the last year).

Jack Straw says:


The government is UNABLE to crack PGP encrypted emails and I suggest everyone get a free and legal PGP key and use it all the time. Best advice is to buy a new or used laptop computer, download, create DVD and boot TAILS as your very private and ultra secure operating system which never uses your real computer hard drive and stores no trace of your activity on the actual laptop (this is all legal by the way), and with PGP, and free wireless from your neighbor or coffee shop, you are pretty pretty much untraceable. Remember: it is the State VS. The People, so lets stop the B/S and realize our own government is the real enemy of freedom. Hey you don’t like my comment? FU

Anonymous Coward says:


“Hey you don’t like my comment? FU”
I love your comment — and your ideas and ideals.

I want to add: I believe that a utility that randomizes the client’s local MAC address (or at least the less-significant octets) would further aid in covering one’s tracks, particularly in the event one happens to offend (by way of (for example) naming & shaming an individual amongst the ranks of…) our dear leaders or their criminal TLA henchmen.

Also, it is (IMO) needless to point out the “legality” of any particular action — (at least to those who are paying attention); in a nation where a war criminal gets a peace prize and an innocent pleb protecting his family gets a death sentence, persecutors instead of prosecutors — there is no law. Until/unless it gets fixed, we just have our own judgement: morality, humanism, risk assessment… These days I find the moral code of La Cosa Nostra to have more integrity than unfunny joke called the Department of “Justice.”

Bill Bellroth says:

Feds threaten to arrest.

So Lavabit is threatened with criminal proceedings for shutting down their own service. Wonderful. So will the government charge me for refusing to send an email that might incriminate me? Suppose I decline to say anything about terrorism, am I thereby committing an offence? It really is a time where Truth is Lies, War is Peace, Sanity is Madness. God help us all.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

We've always had a democracy.

We actually never had a democracy until about now…. This is what democracy looks like with an “elected ruling elite”…

I don’t think that word means what you think it means. We have a representative democracy (i.e. a republic) that has been gamed. But neither of those terms ceases to qualify because the representatives are not held accountable.

There are numerous ways for this to be fixed, some within the system, some peaceful. But those for whom the current regime is favorable are going to resist with all their might.

We may have a democracy at the end of it. It might be representative, and our representatives may actually serve the will of their constituents. But no matter what we have, there will always be forces trying to wrench the system back towards a dictatorship, if in tiny amounts.

Our constitutional framers knew this going in. The only thing they underestimated was the organizational powers of technology that sped the process.

Coyne Tibbets says:

They wanted the master key

LavaBit encrypted all mail in an effort to make it hard for anyone (even the government) to peek.

However, for technical reasons, virtually any such design has to have a master key to control the overall system of keys.

After thinking about this for a while, I’m guessing that what the government did was demand his master key. That would have allowed them to decrypt any message from any user, not just Snowden.

ironjustice (profile) says:

Stifling Research

Monitoring of Google has been going on for awhile. I was trying to do some research as to when, who and how the special rights of the homosexuals came about and why, who and how the special rights are so quickly leading us to war. I had discovered a tree and was following its branches and it had led to the Democratic leader in New York being caught for child pornography and was trying to research how and who he had to know in order to secure that job. I , as a researcher , typed in the proper search terms in Google, and what do I get back? I get back a message that my search was inappropriate and has been recorded , scared the sht out of me, for a second or two and I never captured the message to prove it had happened.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Stifling Research

Which ‘special’ homosexual rights are these? The rights not to be persecuted, hounded or jailed for doing what everyone else is doing? The right to marry the one they love? The equality that blacks and women have already had to fight for?

And how are these ‘special’ rights ‘leading you to war’? The only people picking a fight are the reactionary bigots who spout the same crap they have for nearly 200 years, losing every step of the way.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Our Government Is Scary

We The People do have the ability to force a vote on a bill outlawing these practices. There are 300 million of us and, about 25% of the working people are government employees. Clearly we non-government employees are the majority. The first thing we do is pass a law reducing the number of government employees to no more than 8% of the working population. Then We The People write our own bill making all forms of communication private regardless of the transmission medium. Then We force a vote on that bill. Next We criminalize telemarketing. Next We criminalize the acts of companies compiling information on individuals. Next we pass a bill stating that Our right to privacy includes anonymity. And so on.

gregd01 says:


Its funny how many liberals I know are all for this. If a Republican were in the White House, I can only imagine their complaining. True Kool-Aid drinkers.

I always thought the patriot act went too far but now we see just how far beyond that we’ve gone.

There is no turning this ship around until the people stop seeing this as a pawn in the game of politics and realize that we are headed down a slippery slope – no matter who is in office at the time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Tyranny

This, i think, is the bitter pill of the whole thing – apparently, a good number of Democrat supporters are arguing that the US Government and the NSA should be trusted.

Because, from where I’m sitting, the media outlets are complicit in the fascistic machinations of a small number of people (perhaps as few as 6).

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Same as the old boss.

Its funny how many liberals I know are all for this. If a Republican were in the White House, I can only imagine their complaining. True Kool-Aid drinkers.

Well, speaking as a raging liberal, I’m all for not this.

But what you are seeing is the human tendency towards community solidarity. Many vote according to their identity and not (as is our duty as voters in a democracy) according to our personal best interests. Hence gazillions of poor folk voting Republican because it’s pro-family-values (e.g. hating on women and gays.)

The parties and their differences are a sham. The nation is drowning in Kool-aid. And it may fall in our lifetime because of it.

suzy000 (profile) says:

Where Am I Living?

This is getting bad, guys. I am starting to feel like we live in a Communist state. Congress needs to do something and quick. These guys are out of control. I know they are reading this as I type and you know what…they KNOW it too and don’t give a darn. This is a bi-partisan issue and there is no reason for Congress NOT to get the NSA in line.

Uma Spankhurst (profile) says:

Congress needs to do something? As if. Over half of them have been apparently in the dark about what’s happening.

There is somebody who could do something about this. His name is Obama. He’s the guy running this show. It’s not like the NSA is doing this without his oversight. It’s his DOJ going after these whistleblowers, and attending to the FISC court.

Thingumbob (user link) says:

The Prisoner

That erstwhile British distopian TV series The Prisoner had nothing on the Panopticon Leviathan that our constitutional democratic republic has become. If you resist doing the bidding, they will simply flout the law and secretly spirit you away. It would seem that there is absolutely no bounds to this arrogating tyranny. The fact that these fellows work for the power of the City of London and Wall Street is proven by who they are protecting. For instance, the Saudi royal family’s financing of the 9/11 hijackers is an open secret. And to this day they roam the planet scot free.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: the Constitution. Only two possibilities exist. (1) The out of control leviathan we have today happened because the U.S. Constitution authorized it, or (2) the U.S. Constitution was powerless to prevent it from happening.

Time for conservatives to get over their Constitution-worship. Time for liberals to get over their “U.S. government is great if we could only ensure everyone participates” line.

The U.S. government and its Constitution ARE the problem. Read Lysander Spooner.

pesti (profile) says:


I’m wondering if anyone else sees the pattern that I think is there:
The Government gets called out for lying about Iran having nukes, We get 9/11, now we conceed
The government wants our guns, We get the Boston Marathon Fiasco, will we conceed???
Manning/Assange/Snowden et all. Lets see..hmm what was this BS that flew around last week about our embassies shutting
down because the Gov had good info that a plot was in the works, with the inferrance that it was the great and observant NSA that would save us from this threat…
It makes me afraid to wonder what kind of things they might come up with next, something to convince the people that these intrusions into our private lives are necessary for our safety.
Should we be thinking of how to go about monitering them before they make a plan to sacrafice another large number of us in the name of safety…Jesus who are these people
and what made them think that they have the right to play “Gods”

Digger says:


Here’s a little fact, that all of you appear to have forgotten or chosen to ignore.

9/11 did NOT change the constitution.

The Patriot Act is illegal, it violates the constitution.
The NSA snooping is illegal, it violates the constitution.
The FBI creating, funding and then arresting groups of people that they coerced into thinking about terrorist acts is the worst kind of entrapment, also illegal.

This means that all of you, up to and including you Mr. Obama are criminals, thugs, Constitutional Terrorists of the worst sort.

What you have done is just as bad as what Osama did on 9/11.

Worse in that you keep doing it, even when you’ve been caught red-handed.

Disband the NSA.
Disband the TSA.

Repeal The Patriot Act.

Arrest every member of the NSA, the FBI, the CIA, the TSA and OHS that had anything to do with tramping on our citizens rights.

Then you need to impeach yourself, step down, and go sit in a prison cell for the damage you’ve done to this country, it’s people and the constitution which YOU SWORE TO UPHOLD.

All of you are a bunch of lying criminals.

cd1951 (profile) says:


Being a UK national, i find it hard to believe that Lavabit just ‘closed down’!!

I found Lavabit very useful for my everyday emails, as i could send and receive through my isp (which i frequently change for economic reasons), without the need to keep changing email addresses.

Any sensible proprietor/government would allow at least one email to be snet out advising of the closure-this would make good business sense??

I have seen reports that about 350000 users have had their ‘backs put up’, with this closure? Whom does one blame, especially when one has to arrange a new email address at short notice and advise/change all the correspondents of this, something that took me a few hours!!

It does also make one wonder (myself not included), why so many people get an anti American attitude to things, especially where they are not fully explained? Posting of the court order onto the website should have given users some insight into what was going on-this cannot surely be against the law??

Reply-cd1951 says:


US is worse that China ATM mate. Just THINK and research before you ask such silly questions.
I would not trust any company in US with any data nowadays. They share it even with private companies. YES without you knowing it.
LavaBit’s service -I think it was either this or everyone using it would of lost any trace of privacy.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Experiment

That’s a relief. Maybe they won’t be as troubled.

Offshore dissenters, when they’re interesting enough, seem to get shuttled to one of our blacksite affiliates that torture for the president so that he can still say he doesn’t.

If you have people who will miss you that might help, but in the past the US has been able to disappear people thoroughly enough to make Stalin jealous.

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