Apparent Redaction Failure Leads To Government Confirming Target Of Lavabit Investigation

from the SPOILER-ALERT? dept

The US government has just undercut one of its own gag orders. It imposed one on Lavabit after demanding its source code and encryption key. It has revealed the target of its demands from the encrypted email provider -- a person everyone already knew was the target, but one that wasn't likely to be officially confirmed for years to come. Kim Zetter at Wired has the details:

Ladar Levison, owner of the now defunct email service, has been forbidden since then, under threat of contempt and possibly jail time, from identifying who the government was investigating. In court documents from the case unsealed in late 2013, all information that could identify the customer was redacted.

But federal authorities recently screwed up and revealed the secret themselves when they published a cache of case documents but failed to redact one identifying piece of information about the target: his email address, With that, the very authorities holding the threat of jail time over Levison’s head if he said anything have confirmed what everyone had long ago presumed: that the target account was Snowden’s.
The unsealed documents were posted to PACER and picked up by Cryptome, which uploaded them yesterday. The inadvertent exposure is contained in the Appeal Cover Sheet, which was apparently left unredacted when the unsealed docs were uploaded to the court's electronic filing system.

Sometimes inadvertent transparency is the best transparency. Despite this being made public (most likely accidentally), it still doesn't change the stipulations of the gag order.
When asked for comment, Levison’s lawyer Jesse Binnall told WIRED in a email that “due to the letter and spirit of the court’s January 7, 2016 order, Lavabit has no further comment on the unredacted email address.”
Yes, a gag order can still be violated even though anyone who's paying attention has known for nearly two years now that the target was Edward Snowden. Unless the government meant to release this document in unredacted form, Ladar Levinson and his lawyers could still face contempt charges for even confirming what thousands of others can see with their own two eyes.

Filed Under: ed snowden, failures, redaction
Companies: lavabit

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2016 @ 9:10am


    In the spirit of fairness, I think the court employee(s) who released the unredacted form ought to be held in contempt of their own court. It may not make sense, but it's only fair, in light of the ongoing gag order. Once the order is lifted, they can be released from contempt.

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