The message greeting visitors to Ladar Levison shuttered his 10-year-old secure e-mail business in August, citing cryptic threats from the government. Last week, the documents in his case were unsealed, and the public learned what the government had sought from Lavabit: the ability to monitor in real time the e-mail of a single user.

After discovering that there was no way to tap into the e-mail of the individual Lavabit user they were after, federal agents demanded Lavabit’s private SSL key, which would give them the ability to monitor every Lavabit user.

The judge agreed and ordered Lavabit to comply, threatening $5,000-per-day fines against Levison if the company didn’t. Levison supplied the private keys—and then shut down his e-mail service, destroying his 10-year-old business rather than giving the government the data it wanted.

The name of the target is still under seal, but it’s now widely believed to be Edward Snowden.

The government became embroiled with Lavabit in May, which is when Snowden disappeared from his job at Booz Allen Hamilton and the feds started looking for him. 1     

Leave a Reply