The FBI fined, threatened, and forced Ladar Levison to suspend the operation of his secure email service, Lavabit LLC, telling the entrepreneur that his users were more likely to trust the government than him.
Now that’s funny… There are not many that trust the government these days.
Levison said he was willing to provide the FBI limited access to what they wanted, but the bureau told him that was not sufficient, insisting on full access.
He recalls lead prosecutor Jim Trump asking, “Do you really think users trust you over us?” Levison answered in the affirmative and Trump replied that Levison was “lucky” he had not already been arrested.
“I was outnumbered eight to one,” said Levison speaking of his interaction with federal agents. “They were taking offense that I was saying these things. They didn’t seem to understand at all what they were doing.”
Levison said the FBI responded to concerns about overreach by saying, basically, “Don’t worry. We’re the federal government. We wouldn’t do that.”
And the FBI wanted a lot more access than to just one account, Levison said. “I had an FBI agent that came to my home office saying that they wanted to collect content, wanted to collect passwords. I could not in good conscience turn over these keys and let them have unaudited access.”
According to Levison, the worst part was being under court-sanctioned gag order, leaving him unable to explain his self-described “existential crisis” to customers. “How do you fight a law that nobody knows exists?” said Levison, “I was having trouble sleeping. It was a huge problem for me ethically.”
Guilty before innocence. That’s not the American way. Way to go Mr. Levison.