NSA

Lavabit's Ladar Levison on Snowden, Why He Shut Down, and How to Beat the NSA

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"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. 

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Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Sharif Matar. Approximately 15 minutes.

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