The owner of the now-shuttered encrypted email service used by Edward Snowden told RT that he plans to fight for a strong precedent via the court system so that US internet providers can refuse to hand over customers’ personal info and communications.
Ladar Levison abruptly shut down his company, Lavabit LLC, on August 8 to avoid being forced to hand over customers’ personal information and communications.
“I’m going to keep standing on my soapbox and shouting as loudly as I can for as long as people will listen. My biggest fear when I shut down the service was that nobody would notice, nobody would care and my biggest hope was that when I shut down the service it would lead to some positive change. I’m going to continue fighting for a strong precedent via the court system and I’m going to continue to lobby Congress for change in the laws,” he said.
Levison was issued a secret federal court order that he is legally barred from detailing, though experts believe the order to be a sealed subpoena or national security letter which demands he cooperate with an investigation related to Snowden.
Levison told RT he fears a bleak future for secure-data services like Lavabit should US government surveillance and strong-arming of American companies continue.
“It’s become clear to me over last couple of months that all of the major providers here in the US have provided our government with real-time access to private information of their user,” he said. “They don’t really have a choice about it and they don’t really have the ability to tell anybody about it. Fact is, if you trust your data to a company , even if they haven’t already been approached and been required to provide access, the simple fact is they could be in the future, unless that judicial precedent is set or Congress takes action.”
Levison said he hopes his case can help set such a legal precedent. In the meantime, he is entertaining the possibility of moving his service overseas, though he is not yet confident such an arrangement could achieve security for his customers free of US spying.
“As an American, if I were to continue running the service even if it was physically based in another country, I could still be required to compromise the security of that system and I could literally be put in a position where I’m forced to choose between breaking the laws of the country in which the service is hosted or breaking the laws of the United States,” he said.
Levison said last week he believes he could face criminal charges for refusing to comply with the secret order.
He said he thinks the American public has a right to know what the government’s doing and how it’s collecting information on its own citizens.
“If I had continued to operate, I felt like it would have put me in an ethically-compromising position,” he said about his service, which he believed would no longer have been a secure, private method of communication for Americans had he continued.
Levison said he doesn’t oppose keeping an investigation secret, but he does object to the covert methods the government uses to conduct surveillance. Therefore, he felt he had no choice but to protect his customers even though the previous month, following the revelations that spawned from Snowden’s leaks about National Security Agency spying programs to The Guardian and Washington Post reporters, was Lavabit’s best in its 10-year history.
“When you say no to the government, they have the ability to take everything,” he said of defying the government by continuing Lavabit and not complying with the order. “They have the ability to take your business, take your money and take your freedom. And there really isn’t all that much you can do about it. I was looking at the very real possibility of an impossible debt and possibly being put in jail and still not being able to tell people why I was even in jail.”