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

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out_of_the_blue says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Wolfy says:


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.

Carlos Sol?s a.k.a. ArkBlitz (in the rest of the I (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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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