In oral arguments heard on Tuesday, Lavabit and federal prosecutors each presented their cases in front of a three-judge panel at the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.

The case is an appeal of contempt-of-court charges against Lavabit, a now-defunct e-mail hosting service that once offered secure communication.

In the summer of 2013, Lavabit was ordered to provide real-time e-mail monitoring of one of its users, widely believed to be Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor-turned-leaker. When Lavabit told the feds that the only way it could hand over communications was through an internal process that would deliver results 60 days after any communication was sent, the authorities returned with a search warrant for Lavabit’s SSL keys, which could decrypt the traffic of all of Lavabit’s users. Ladar Levison, the CEO of Lavabit, handed over the SSL keys but then shut down his 10-year-old business rather than expose all of Lavabit’s users.

The first report of the appeals argument from PC World suggests that while Levison may be a hero with privacy advocates, he’s going to have a tougher time convincing the judges on the appeals court. The case was “blown out of proportion with all these contentions” of what the FBI would do with the SSL keys, said US Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer. “There’s such a willingness to believe” that the keys will be misused and that “the government will spy on everyone,” he said.     

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