Oct 02 2013
This was a brilliant move from Ladar Levison, the owner of the now shuttered private email service, Lavabit. When the FBI compelled him to give up the encryption keys to his service for Edward Snowden, Levison complied, though quite a bit maliciously; the keys were given to the FBI in printed form on 11 pages of 4 point font. I’m not sure why 5 512-bit encryption keys would require 11 pages at that size, but I have to approve of his method of delivery.
The disturbing part of this story isn’t how Levison delivered the keys to the FBI, but rather the overreach of the FBI to try to read the email of one person. Apparently, the FBI agents weren’t satisfied with having the keys required to decrypt their target’s email, they actually wanted the master encryption keys to Lavabit’s entire archive. This would have given them access to the email of 400,000 people who had subscribed to the Lavabit service, the equivalent of the city of Milwaukee. It’s still not clear why this level of access is needed in order to investigate the crimes of one person, which the judge apparently agreed with, since he quashed the motion as well as the motion to put a gag order on Levison.
I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Levison, so I can’t make any comments on his personality or ethics, but I have to applaud his efforts to protect the privacy of his clients, to the point of having to close his business. If Microsoft, Google and other tech giants had shown even a fraction of his willpower to push back on a law enforcement regime that has been pushing it’s power to the edge of abuse and past it, we’d be having a very different discussion in public right now. Except most citizens of the US have already forgotten that this conversation is even going on. Europe, on the other hand, is very aware.