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Lavabit founder launches appeal against website closure

Published time: September 12, 2013 11:23
AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm

AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm

The founder and owner of encrypted e-mail site Lavabit, Ladar Levison, has appealed the US government order that shut down the service last month. However, the details of the order and the closure remain subject to a legal gagging order.

The Texas-based Lavabit mail service, initially planned as an alternative for Gmail aimed at protecting users’ data, was shut down August 8. The closure happened about a month after reports that Lavabit had been used by Edward Snowden to communicate from Russia.

Levison said in the statement announcing the closure that the authorities had prevented him from disclosing the reasons for the closure.

“I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly 10 years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit,” Levison said. “After significant soul-searching, I have decided to suspend operations.”

According to court records, details of the case were placed under a gag order by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. Reports emerged, however, that the court had ordered the Lavabit owner to provide the government with the website’s private SSL certificate, which would allow the NSA to wiretap its users.

Over August, Levison raised more than $100,000 to finance the appeal.

He told RT that he saw a bleak future for secure-data services such as Lavabit if US government surveillance continues. 

“It’s become clear to me over last couple of months that all of the major providers here in the US have provided our government with real-time access to private information of their users,” he said. 

“They don’t really have a choice about it and they don’t really have the ability to tell anybody about it. Fact is, if you trust your data to a company, even if they haven’t already been approached and been required to provide access, the simple fact is they could be in the future, unless that judicial precedent is set or Congress takes action.”

Levison said he considered the possibility of moving his service overseas, though he was not yet confident that such an arrangement could guarantee freedom for his customers from US spying. 

“As an American, if I were to continue running the service, even if it was physically based in another country, I could still be required to compromise the security of that system and I could literally be put in a position where I’m forced to choose between breaking the laws of the country in which the service is hosted, or breaking the laws of the United States,” he said.

The appeal is set to be heard October 3, likely in a closed-door hearing. By law, a redacted version of the proceedings should be made public.

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