A month ago, the tech world was abuzz with news that Ladar Levison decided to shutter his encrypted email service Lavabit, rather than betray the trust of his clients by selling out their privacy to the U.S. government. The writing was on the wall, and shortly thereafter another encrypted email service, Silent Circle, made a similar decision to shutdown.
Well two months later we finally have some more information about what went down behind the scenes, all of which demonstrate the true American hero that Mr. Levison really is. He can now talk about the events leading up to the shut down of Lavabit and redacted versions of the court pleadings are available online. Yesterday, Wired published an article detailing some of what we have learned. Kevin Poulsen writes:
U.S. Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan immediately ordered Lavabit to comply, threatening Levison with criminal contempt — which could have potentially put him in jail.
By July 9, Lavabit still hadn’t defeated its security for the government, and prosecutors asked for a summons to be served for Lavabit, and founder Ladar Levison, to be held in contempt “for its disobedience and resistance to these lawful orders.”
The judge also rejected Lavabit’s motion to unseal the record. “This is an ongoing criminal investigation, and there’s no leeway to disclose any information about it.”
In an interesting work-around, Levison complied the next day by turning over the private SSL keys as an 11 page printout in 4-point type. The government, not unreasonably, called the printout “illegible.”
“To make use of these keys, the FBI would have to manually input all 2,560 characters, and one incorrect keystroke in this laborious process would render the FBI collection system incapable of collecting decrypted data,” prosecutors wrote.