Ladar Levison.

Photo by Gage Skidmore

A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a contempt of court ruling against Ladar Levison and his now-defunct encrypted e-mail service provider, Lavabit LLC, for hindering the government’s investigation into the National Security Agency leaks surrounding Edward Snowden.
In the summer of 2013, Lavabit was ordered to provide real-time e-mail monitoring of one particular user of the service, believed to be Snowden, the former NSA contractor turned whistleblower. Instead of adequately complying with the order to turn over the private SSL keys that protected his company’s tens of thousands of users from the government’s prying eyes, Levison chose instead to shut down Lavabit last year after weeks of stonewalling the government.


Levison reluctantly turned over his encryption keys to the government, although not in a manner that the government deemed useful—he provided a lengthy printout in tiny type, a move the authorities said was objectionable. The company had treated the matter “as if it was a contract negotiation,” rather than a “lawful court order,” Assistant US Attorney Andrew Peterson, who represented the government, told the appellate court.
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