“Let me put it this way: If one year from now, you’re not using Dark Mail, it’s because you enjoy knowing the NSA is reading your emails,” says Ladar Levison, founder of Lavabit, the email provider used by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
After Snowden’s identity became known, Levison shut down Lavabit, posting the following message on the company website: I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot.
Levison was prohibited from discussing any details of the case until last October, when the court unsealed a portion of the documents. The unsealed records reveal that the FBI was demanding access to Lavabit’s Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) keys, which would essentially allow the agency access to all messages on Lavabit’s server. While the FBI was ostensibly targeting only a single user, Levison was unwilling to sacrifice the privacy of his other 400,000+ users.
He is still not allowed to discuss the identity of the user the FBI hoped to target.
Levison sat down with Reason TV’s Zach Weissmueller at the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) conference to talk more about his decision to fight the federal government, his thoughts on Edward Snowden, and his vision for Dark Mail, a collaborative effort with Silent Circle, another encrypted email service that shut down in the wake of Snowden’s NSA revelations.
If you are concerned about your smartphone’s privacy, set a passcode right now!
Is Edward Snowden a hero for revealing government wrongdoing, or a traitor for leaking classified information? “I don’t think anybody acts and says to themselves, ‘What I’m doing is immoral, but I’m going to do it.’ People always rationalize,” according to former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow. Correspondent Lucky Severson reports on the debate over the morality of Snowden’s actions.
Selected quotes from the transcript:
EDWARD SNOWDEN: I’m just another guy who sits there day to day in the office and watches what’s happening and goes, “This is something that’s not our place to decide. The public needs to decide whether these programs or policies are right or wrong.”
THOMAS DRAKE: I went through every chain of command that existed, including internal inspector general.
SEVERSON: Snowden has said that he skipped the country because he saw what happened to whistleblower Thomas Drake. Drake was an NSA senior analyst who went to the Baltimore Sun only after he had gone up the chain of command to complain about a billion-dollar spy program that was later abandoned.
DRAKE: I was put under severe duress. I was surveilled physically and electronically. I was threatened. At one point the chief prosecutor, in April of 2008, said, “How would you like to spend the rest of your life in prison, Mr. Drake, unless you cooperate with our investigation?” And so they came after me with everything they had.
JESSEYLN RADACK: I mean, when you are a whistleblower, you are extremely isolated. The government called me a traitor and a turncoat and a terrorist sympathizer in the New York Times, and that makes you pretty radioactive.