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.