back to article Snowden's email provider may face court rap after closing service

The owner of an encrypted email service used by NSA leaker Edward Snowden could be facing contempt of court charges after refusing to hand over his users' information to spooks, according to a recent report. Ladar Levison dramatically shut down his email firm, Lavabit, after being whacked with a secret federal court order. …

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  1. g e

    How's that 'not strong-arming' going, Obama?

    You lying piece of shit.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Megaphone

      Re: How's that 'not strong-arming' going, Obama?

      In fairness to Obama, and I by no means defend him - the situation in America (and probably the UK) is that the security agencies have become so unwieldy and self propelling organs of self interest that I doubt he has much clue about what they do.

      This is brutally evident in the expose on the NSA.

      When a country thinks it needs a secret court, secret sealed subpoenas etc then it clearly needs to sit up and re-evaluate what the hell it is actually doing.

      1984? We are already WAY beyond that.

      1. Miek
        Big Brother

        Re: How's that 'not strong-arming' going, Obama?

        I think Bill Hicks said it best when discussing Politicians and their pre-election promises:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MRykTpw1RQ

  2. localzuk

    Secret justice

    Is not justice at all. A system where people can be coerced into giving information, then be silenced about even giving the data to the authorities should not be allowed. Its dangerous and completely counter to the entire point of justice.

    1. Magister
      Big Brother

      Re: Secret justice

      I refer you to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Chamber

      Originally set-up to ensure " the fair enforcement of laws against prominent people, those so powerful that ordinary courts would never convict them of their crimes."

      But inevitably, it became a symbol for misuses of power "Over time it evolved into a political weapon, a symbol of the misuse and abuse of power by the English monarchy and courts."

      Does this sound familiar?

    2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Secret justice

      He wasn't even being coerced into giving information.

      He was being coerced into re-writing his service to store the email un-encrypted or grab the encryption details of all his customers - that goes a long way beyond cooperating with the court

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The only reason for the gag order

    Is to stop the regular court system from finding this grossly unconstitutional.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fight on Mr. Levinson

    I've contributed to your fight via Paypal. Use that money to expose this gross injustice by power mad liars. Oops, sorry I mean governments.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fight on Mr. Levinson

      I've contributed to your fight via Paypal.

      OK, upvote for humour value. Hahahaha.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The truly amazing thing is that American politicians can't see just how 'totalitarian' their country is behaving?

    Seriously, if China was behaving as the American system is, they would all be pointing it out and shouting about human rights abuses...

    Where are the American people? I thought the entire point of the constitution was to hold the American Government accountable to the people? Why are Americans not filling the streets protesting?

    1. zaax
      Unhappy

      Because they have been hoodwinked by the government. The US government is not the only one that is hoodwinking its people, and it getting very scary as we are not far away from the western governments turning into totalitarian states, and the general population is not aware.

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Where are the American people?

      We're watching Dancing with the Stars and Breaking Bad ... most Americans couldn't give a damn about Snowden because he's not on Reality TV or a Game Show.

    3. silent_count

      "Why are Americans not filling the streets protesting?"

      And be branded unpatriotic at best, terrorist at worst, prior to being invited to stay at sunny Guantanemo Bay?

      1. squigbobble
        Black Helicopters

        Or just getting locked up or shot

        under the more conventional auspices of US policing.

    4. codejunky Silver badge

      It is a threat

      @obnoxiousGit

      "Where are the American people? I thought the entire point of the constitution was to hold the American Government accountable to the people? Why are Americans not filling the streets protesting?"

      The idea that the gov is accountable to the people is like the nuclear deterrent in the UK. If we are destroyed maybe the instruction is to fire or maybe its not. If it is known by the attacker that they wouldnt be destroyed then there is no threat. The US is in the same situation that the UK is in. They are as unwilling to do anything as we are. We want our creature comforts and give away our freedom for the pleasure.

    5. ShrekD'Ogre
      Black Helicopters

      Many of us are blissfully ignorant of the danger the actions of our government pose to the rights we take for granted. Unless it causes their Interwebs and FaceSpaces to not let them play their little Flash based games and share too much personal information most Americans are incapable of caring. We have become indolent and ignorant. Those of us that are capable of seeing and understanding the risks are labeled as paranoid or nut-jobs.

  6. tempemeaty

    USA is now the new Soviet Union

    Gross violations of the constitution and acts of overt oppression of the people are taking place. The US Congress are now acting enemies of the people of the united states for voting to allow this and doing nothing to stop it.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What's the point of it all

    Snowden legacy is clearly going to outlast him and will be that of some sort of American folk hero. The current course of action is only laying the foundations for this. Perhaps, ultimately, that is the intention.

    But in a decades' time, who will remember anything Obama has done?

    1. chris lively

      Re: What's the point of it all

      Unfortunately, a lot of us will remember Obama in a few decades. Just not in a positive way.

      1. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: What's the point of it all

        I expect he will be remembered in place of bush. For all the harm bush became infamous for obama reaches further. It looks almost like he is trying to compete

  8. an it guy

    but what about those who donated?

    Surely that list can now be subpeona-ed to find people who support this 'rebellious activity'?

    Is the online donation service US-based? That would be quite ironic...

    1. Zippy's Sausage Factory
      Black Helicopters

      Re: but what about those who donated?

      Undoubtedly they already have that information. I'd be surprised if all contributors weren't considered "persons of interest" already.

    2. JimmyPage
      Big Brother

      Re: but what about those who donated?

      I would be astounded if the security services didn't hoover up semi-public data about who is interested in what, politically.

      Those No. 10 petitions ? The ones where you need to provide your UK address & email ?

      Any Justgiving campaign.

      Letters pages and public fora ?

      eBay activity.

      Amazon reviews ....

      The spooks knew about big data years ago.

    3. whoshotmcgyver

      Re: but what about those who donated?

      will the fund be subpeona-ed to release details of those who contribute. Will another fund have to be started to protect them... the lawyers will be rubbing their hands and stoking the fires

  9. Nick Kew Bronze badge

    The true hero

    The whistleblowers Manning and Snowden put themselves in morally ambiguous position. Though of course that still puts them in good company: for example, Mandela.

    With Levison there's no ambiguity: he's doing absolutely the right thing at considerable personal sacrifice. Nor did he seek publicity for himself. Even if he avoids trouble with the courts, he's abandoned the work of years in his service. This is a true hero.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The true hero

      Disagree that what Manning/Snowden (or indeed Assange) have done is MORALLY ambiguous. Not at all. Morally excellent, proper, conscientious etc.

      Legally their position is more difficult (a la Mandela), but that's because the laws are bad.

  10. HereWeGoAgain

    The USA is the Nazi Germany of our era

    It deems people 'enemies'.

    It murders 'suspects'.

    Hitler was voted into power. 'Democracy' is not an obstacle to this people.

    1. h3

      Re: The USA is the Nazi Germany of our era

      It is a constitutional republic not a democracy anyway.

      (That ignores the constitution at every opportunity).

      Look at how it actually works with the electoral college and all that stuff.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The USA is the Nazi Germany of our era

      If memory serves, he was voted into power with a decent majority, fixed their national economy, ended a lot of starvation, properly organised their national data AND that of invaded nations, and generally didn't do too bad a job from the point of view of the average German. And even on the mass-murdering side, he- and the other higher-ups in the Nazi party- had the decency to come out and say exactly who they didn't like and why (their reasons don't matter so much in this case as there being publicised, consistent reasons that they actually went to the trouble of pretending were true/blowing out of all proportion).

      The current crop of politicians have done almost the exact opposite. They've wrecked economies, plunged many into starvation, screwed up/given away our data, screwed up invaded countries and pissed off a lot of the populace. And then they don't even have the decency to declare who or what they're fighting or why- 12 years bombing the shit out of a couple of foreign countries and generally subjugating their native populaces and they haven't even declared it as an official war yet.

      Whoever's in charge these days couldn't hold a candle to Hitler. They're more evil, more incompetent and thanks to the mass-media are more dangerous than he ever was.

      If I've made a mistake/omission in this post, please tell me so the next one is correct.

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: The USA is the Nazi Germany of our era

        Your omission is that the reason Germany was economically ruined was the completely nuts "reparations" they were forced to pay for their actions in WWI. Germany started it all with WWI and WWII happened because the allies got greedy.

        Hitler may have been the most notable - and ultimately most hated - player, however, he was far from the only one. There's also a lot to suggest that while he was indeed a monster, he was not remotely the most monstrous of those who held power alongside him.

        Germany's shame is the same as that of the Americans of the day and those of today: apathy. America of the day gave no fucks about what was happening to others based on human rights abuses. They are today no different. The only difference is that the first bricks in the road to having true monsters in power are being laid in America now.

        Obama isn't Hitler, nor was Bush. (Though we could have an argument about Cheney.) The real monster will come in the not too distant future; a decade from now, two at the most. After all these rights have been curtailed within their nation and seem "normal" to the next generation. After 30 years of "foreigners aren't people" has been ingrained and embedded within the populace.

        Then will the real horror start. Then you'll get a Bachman or a Palin or a pastor from Westboro Baptist Church with nuclear weapons.

        I weep for the future.

      2. Youngone Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: The USA is the Nazi Germany of our era

        Several mistakes here, Hitler's best election result was in March 1933 with 44% of the vote: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_Party#Federal_election_results

        The German economy had been on the road to disaster for several years, this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Mason#The_.22Flight_into_war.22_theory

        may or may not be true, but it's more compelling then Hitler's reason's for war.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casus_belli#World_War_II

        Not sure what you mean by "their national data". Pretty sure Hitler didn't invent the internet. It was Al Gore as any fule no.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The USA is the Nazi Germany of our era

          Thanks for that, I like to know when I'm wrong. Makes me less wrong next time :)

          Isn't 44% still better than the current UK or US governments? Any idea what the turn-out was like for that vote?

          Yes, the German economy was rocky, but as someone said above that was mainly due to the 'victorious' side in WW1 claiming enormous reparations payments from them. It lead to phenomenal inflation, with people being paid twice daily to cope and a loaf of bread being a billion marks. This lead to a lot of resentment so he was able to scapegoat and work his way into power. He, more or less, saved Germany and set the stage for a very strong economy.

          By 'their national data' I mean, predominantly, their census data. And some of their tax data. And other such stuff- they recognised the importance of all this data and hired in IBM to sort it out for them. Given some more time they'd have been 'digital by default'. And they were bloody good at it, too- unlike our current shower. It was all punchcards etc, though, so their packet-switching would have involved motorcycle couriers exchanging parcels.

          1. Youngone Silver badge

            Re: The USA is the Nazi Germany of our era

            Just by the way, I have a 100,000,000 Mark note from December 1920. An old German bloke lived next door to my Grandma, and when he died, she cleaned out his house, as he had no family. She gave it to me, and no its still pretty much worthless.

          2. Irony Deficient

            a house of cards

            Anonymous Coward of 21:48 GMT, have you considered the use of a search engine to discover facts and figures? (For example, the turnout of that election was 71.6%.) You can certainly answer your own question regarding how the 43.9% NSDAP popular share of that vote compares to the most recent Conservative share in the UK and the most recent Democratic share in the US.

            Regarding the German economy during the Nazi years, look closely into Hjalmar Schacht’s Mefo bills; they were used to finance massive public works projects (e.g. the Autobahn system), which in combination with wage and price controls kept government-approved people from starving. Note that the timing of the invasion of Poland could well have been related to staving off the collapse of the Mefo bill system.

            As far as Hitler “more or less, saving Germany” — no. Hitler’s policy choices made war inevitable, and if you think that photographs of Berlin, Dresden, and Dachau in the summer of 1945 demonstrate Germany having been saved, then you should consult a dictionary at your earliest convenience.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How to do secure email

    (bearing in mind the trade off for security, is convenience)

    1) Start with a huge one time pad.

    2) Sent to email recipient securely (only safe way is face to face)

    3) Encrypt email

    4) Post ciphertext to a binary newsgroup

    5) recipient is watching for it, and downloads and decrypts it

    6) for a reply, (1) above needs to be reversed.

    Assuming you trust the integrity of the initial OTP, you can forward details of the next OTP in the first message. Ideally may it something random, like the 247th paragraph of the 19th bestselling book on the Sunday Times Bestsellers list 3 months prior to the origin of the message.

    Of course, if this is what the bad guys are *already* doing, then we're shafted. Although from what I recall, some bad guys are in chokey because rather than trust infidel encryption .... hang on, I've had a brainflash...

    Is it possible all this PRISM/NSA news is designed to make people abandon encryption as not worth it anyway ?

    A(?)C, obviously.

  12. Graham Dawson Silver badge

    His mistake was in being too honest. What should have happened was a series of unfortunate accidents that managed to destroy all of their data storage, after which they found out their backup system wasn't actually being used for the last two years, so all the requested data is simply gone.

    1. Marketing Hack Silver badge

      That's a good way to get charged with obstruction of justice

      If they can tie the unfortunate accidents to a a given person....

      1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

        Re: That's a good way to get charged with obstruction of justice

        Well I read that the original system was designed to make it hard to do what they wanted. So, they do a manual modification of the database code and all of a sudden, it's all gone.

        Hey, if banks can do it, and cloud providers can do it, then surely a small outfit stands no chance at all.

        1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
          Childcatcher

          Re: That's a good way to get charged with obstruction of justice

          Hey, if banks can do it, and cloud providers can do it, then surely a small outfit stands no chance at all.

          "No chance at all" as in "We don't care what happened, you screwed up and have no friends in high places to get you out of this." I think the course that has been taken walks as close to that legal line as possible and still can be argued not to have stepped over. The argument might not succeed, but it seems to be strong from my armchair.

  13. Adair Silver badge

    Welcome [back] to...

    ...the Star Chamber.

    As noted by others: secret justice is no justice at all.

    Or, to put it with a little more class and depth, courtesy of CS Lewis: "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Welcome [back] to...

      "class" is a imanginary social construct with no basis in reality.

      1. Adair Silver badge

        Re: Welcome [back] to...

        I trust that as a scholar in medieval literature and literature critic CS Lewis may be able to express himself with more 'class' and acuity than I, and many others, are able to. ;-)

      2. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

        Re: Welcome [back] to...

        ""class" is a imaginary social construct with no basis in reality"

        Funny, this is so right and so wrong, at the same time.

        Class seems to be like a soul - immaterial, aetherical, imaginary, unreachable, immeasurable, unreal, etc, etc. It cannot be defined properly, its existence cannot be proven, efforts to find it are rather futile.

        And yet, when we conclude it does not exist, something just doesn't feel right about it, something is terribly amiss. Reality is not so real anymore.

        Those little mysteries of life.

      3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Welcome [back] to...

        "class" is a imanginary social construct with no basis in reality

        Oh, goody. Today's sophomorism will be naive anti-essentialism.

        While I believe1 anti-essentialism is a more productive intellectual stance than various essentialisms,2 rejecting social categories as "imanginary" [sic] is either redundant (if by "imaginary" one means "arising from mental activity") or incorrect (if it means "having no consequences in the real world"). It should be patently obvious to anyone capable of observation and critical reflection that social constructs have effects, regardless of whether they are natural or artificial.

        "With no basis in reality" is an even feebler claim, since society clearly is part of reality - unless you're a solipsist, and in that case why are you arguing with yourself?

        Honestly, what do they teach kids in school these days?

        1"Believe" used here in the weak sense, that is "operate under the conscious assumption of this axiom as appearing from available evidence to be more probable and/or productive, until evidence or reason suggests otherwise".

        2Under the aegis of a logical epistemology it cannot be said that essentialism or anti-essentialism is "correct". That's a metaphysical proposition, hence untestable.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Welcome [back] to...

          > unless you're a solipsist, and in that case why are you arguing with yourself?

          He's not. He's arguing with an imaginary know-it-all.

  14. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    We'll see if the Feds can actually make this stick

    Amazingly enough, the Feds have been known to attempt coercion through all kinds of threats about how they are going to send you up for this or that, and then they wimp out when they actually have to put those allegations in front of a judge and jury....

  15. All names Taken
    Paris Hilton

    Why is it that the good guys are looking like all along bad guys and the bad guys are looking like misunderstood good guys?

    Or is it just me?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Couldn't agree more

    "I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States."

  17. phuzz Silver badge

    So, which border is closer, Canada or Mexico? And which do you think would be the best place to run to?

    Mexico is conveniently close to South American countries that don't have extradition treaties with the USA, whereas Canada is only a short plane ride away from Russia and has better skiing.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      on the other hand, as we know from The West Wing, there's already a DOD contingency plan for invading Canada - and if you add South Park, a theme song for it ....

  18. despairing citizen
    Big Brother

    Which legal "person" was the court order against?

    Just in case the DA has forgoten, a company is a legal entity, the same as a person is a legal entity.

    If the legal entity ceases to exist, how can it be held in contempt of court?

    If the court order was against the company, contempt of court charges are just as irational as having a trial with a dead person as the defendant (something that still happens in russia!)

    1. Schultz Silver badge

      Re: Which legal "person" was the court order against?

      From what is known about national security letters, (see, e.g., here), they are served to a person, not a company. As nobody is allowed to say what's in those letters, one may only speculate that Levison violated the terms by publicly shutting down the service instead of secretly installing the requested back-door. Or maybe ha managed to violate part of the gag order by revealing that Lavabits was the target of the inquiry.

      Much better to threaten a person instead of a company, being alone in a difficult situation is surely more scary than being threatened as part of an organization. This secret police seems to know what they are doing.

  19. Dive Fox

    Eventually, we'll have actual insane clowns running for the position of US president, and then we'll find out that people were less prepared for a double juggalo presidency than they ever imagined.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      insane clowns running for the position of US president

      Headline: US Declares Global War on Magnets. "How the fuck do they work?" asks President.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The government has to be real careful about what it does. if they per sue this, they are running a big risk. Ultimately the court case will center around if the secret court is actually lawful. What happens if it makes it all the way to the Supreme Court (which it will) and they rule that the FISA court is not a court and their actions are not lawful? All existing gag orders are null and void and the NSA has no power to do anything. EFF, ACLU and the likes will then go after the federal government and the next thing you know, you have a court ordered compliance officer being paid for by the government and monitoring their every move. The NSA will have no secrets anymore and the government won't be able to use the Patriot Act to do their bidding anymore. The government has a lot to lose by going after Lavabit. I would like to see a court review the FISA court order for Lavabit to turn over all of their customer data/records. At most they could ask for Snowden and the others that he emailed that had Lavabit email accounts.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re: What happens if it makes it all the way to the Supreme Court

      To misquote Obama's mentor: "How many divisions does the Supreme court have?"

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      What happens if it makes it all the way to the Supreme Court (which it will) and they rule that the FISA court is not a court and their actions are not lawful?

      That seems vanishingly unlikely, even if the makeup of SCOTUS were to change dramatically.

      All existing gag orders are null and void and the NSA has no power to do anything.

      The NSA's authority does not derive from FISA. For one thing, the NSA was authorized in 1952, and FISA was passed in '78.

      The magical Supreme Court unicorn cavalry is not going to save us from an overreaching Federal police state. SCOTUS sometimes reins in the other branches, but it's hardly consistent in that regard, and the Executive branch has not always conformed to the Court's decisions. The Court has no enforcement powers; the government obeys its dictates because playing by its own rules (sometimes, in public) lends it legitimacy. But the government retains its monopoly on authorized violence and has never been reluctant to violate its own laws if it can do so in secret. (This is, of course, true of pretty much all governments.)

  21. Cyfaill
    Big Brother

    I was going to say something

    But suddenly... I discovered, that it is not safe to say anything.

    Not funny,

    Scarey...

    Perhaps it is not too late.

    But then again it might be.

  22. Thomas Allen

    Hire a mathematician

    There are other methods of crypto than public key/private key systems. Everyone is so focused on these methods, but alternatives exist and not every method depends on prime number factors and such. Everyone focused on key lengths and large primes could be searching down the wrong lane. Lots of ways to keep secrets.

  23. bag o' spanners
    Black Helicopters

    As the dragnet for "subversive material" grows ever wider, those charged with decoding it will find that the fragmented nature of huge volumes of data starts to make decryption a matter of luck which requires vast armies of brilliant analysts (good luck with that) or expensive supercomputing resources. Which then places the onus on the securocrats to spend ever greater sums of taxpayers' cash on ever diminishing results. The NSA likes to keep their ratio of results to trawls a closely guarded secret, as does GCHQ, and it's quite likely that the reason they're in a flap about Snowden's leaks is that they show how utterly useless they are at doing what they claim is a vital job. And how terrified they are that their smoke and mirrors will be shown up as propaganda and nest feathering.. FISA courts are purely there to prevent embarrassment, conceal dubious spook budget overruns, and deter investigative journalism and oversight.

    The Manning Wikileaks cables showed a majority of US diplomats and senior Armed Forces personnel to be pompous hypocritical twats with a very high opinion of themselves. Manning's show trial is designed more to scare off anyone who might dream of peeling away the threadbare veneer of democracy to show the putrid maggot-infested mess at the core..

    If the Lavabit fiasco ever comes to trial, it'll be fascinating to see how those with a financial interest in maintaining the nebulous "War on Terror" decide to puff it in their pet media channels.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Live by the sword

    Then die by the sword.

  25. This post has been deleted by its author

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