Security

Lavabits founder fought court orders to hand over encryption keys to U.S. gov’t

Edward Snowden
Image Credit: Meghan Kelly/VentureBeat

Remember Lavabits, the now defunct private email service reportedly used by Edward Snowden? It seems the government threatened its founder with a $5,000-a-day fine for every day he refused to hand over a “certain user’s” metadata.

A Virginia court unsealed the court documents, as spotted by Wired, detailing the government’s demands for data from Lavabits, which the company staunchly denied.

In late June, the U.S. ordered Lavabits to record, save, and transfer metadata information about a user on its systems. This metadata includes information in the to and form fields as well as the IP address of the computer accessing Lavabits. When the company did not comply with this request, the U.S. came back in July with another order, this time to give the government the encryption keys that would give it access to not just that one user’s information, but anyone’s information on the service.

While the user is not mentioned by name, the government does state that the information is related to an espionage charge, as noted by Wired, which points to Snowden. Snowden is wanted by the U.S. government for revealing top secret, classified documents pertaining to the way the NSA, CIA, and other agency collect and use American and foreign people’s information.

Ladar Levison, the founder of Lavabits, however, held out and was quickly hit with contempt charge threats and the steep $5,000-a-day fine. Instead of complying, however, Levison decided to shut down the site, saying he did not want to help the government commit “crimes against the American people.”

The case is still ongoing.

Lavabits pleadings