Feeds

Lavabit loses contempt of court appeal over protecting Snowden, customers

Judges rule complaints about government power are too little, too late

The essential guide to IT transformation

Ladar Levison, owner of the now-defunct Lavabit email service, could be facing a heavy fine after an appeals court ruled that he failed to properly contest the government's attempts to install taps on his servers.

Lavabit was the secure email service picked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as the repository of his personal email. After Snowden went public with his identity, the Feds came knocking on Levison's door, demanding the encryption keys to his servers under US "pen register" and "trap and trace" statutes.

Levison refused, and the government came back with a court order to force the issue. Levison contested the case but lost, was found in contempt, and was fined $5,000 a day. That only lasted for two days before he handed over the keys and shortly afterwards shut down Lavabit, saying he was unwilling to "become complicit in crimes against the American people."

On Wednesday the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, turned down Levison's appeal against the contempt charge – not on the grounds that he was being forced to hand over control of his servers, but because he didn’t seriously challenge the legality of the government's request in court the first time.

"In view of Lavabit’s waiver of its appellate arguments by failing to raise them in the district court, and its failure to raise the issue of fundamental or plain error review, there is no cognizable basis upon which to challenge the Pen/Trap Order," the judgment reads.

"The district court did not err, then, in finding Lavabit and Levison in contempt once they admittedly violated that order. The judgment of the district court is therefore affirmed."

Levison's lawyer said that no decision had been made as yet as to whether to appeal to a higher court, but noted that the court's ruling left open the question of the government's legal rights to place surveillance on servers in this way.

"It does seem like it’s likely to recur," the attorney told Politico. "Hopefully, we’ve laid out a road map or at least one road map for why the government's surveillance theories in a case like this are not correct. That may make it easier for the next person in a case like this to prevail." ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Britain's housing crisis: What are we going to do about it?
Rent control: Better than bombs at destroying housing
Top beak: UK privacy law may be reconsidered because of social media
Rise of Twitter etc creates 'enormous challenges'
GCHQ protesters stick it to British spooks ... by drinking urine
Activists told NOT to snap pics of staff at the concrete doughnut
What do you mean, I have to POST a PHYSICAL CHEQUE to get my gun licence?
Stop bitching about firearms fees - we need computerisation
Ex US cybersecurity czar guilty in child sex abuse website case
Health and Human Services IT security chief headed online to share vile images
We need less U.S. in our WWW – Euro digital chief Steelie Neelie
EC moves to shift status quo at Internet Governance Forum
Oz biz regulator discovers shared servers in EPIC FACEPALM
'Not aware' that one IP can hold more than one Website
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.