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Lavabit appeals government order to divulge its private keys

lavabit-appeals-government-order_siLavabit, the secure email provider used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, has filed its first brief in what is considered a landmark privacy case, revealing more details of its resisting an aggressive government investigation. The email provider’s founder, Ladar Levison, shut down rather  than comply with a government order issued July 16 to release its  private SSL keys, or rather the keys to its encryption, which  would have left the service’s 40,000 users exposed as authorities  poured through data for any useful evidence on Snowden. According to a brief filed in the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals  Levison is appealing that court order, and a government response  will be due by November 4th. In that document Lavabit outlines its position, defending its  refusal to hand over private keys as they “were not  contraband, were not the fruits of any crime, were not used to  commit any crime, and were not evidence of any crime.” The 44-page document argues that the pen register  statute–legislation originally focused on telephony but now  routinely used to extract electronic data–does not authorize the  US government to seize the email service’s keys, nor does the  Stored Communications Act. Lavabit’s appeal further states that the Fourth Amendment forbids  the seizure of its SSL keys, and protects against the access of  its customers’ data. “The Fourth Amendment insists that a warrant name particular  things to be searched; a warrant that permits open-ended  rummaging through all of Lavabit’s communications data is simply  a modern-day writ of assistance, the sort of general warrant that  the Fourth Amendment was ratified to forbid.” The email service points out that officials forbade Lavabit from  informing anyone, including its customers and partners, that it  had compromised its security. According to the brief, government  officials “insisted that all of those parties be  affirmatively misled into believing that the system remained  secure against exactly the kind of secret monitoring that the  government was proposing.” Interestingly, Lavabit also details that it had proposed a  compromise in turning over the target’s (in this case almost  certainly Edward Snowden) “login and subsequent logout date  and time, the IP address used to connect” along with what it  describes as “non-content headers” from any future  emails sent or received by the subject’s account. That offer was refused, as authorities instead demanded that they  be given “real time” access to their target customer’s  data. Lavabit’s offer does, however, seem to undermine the notion that  officials would have required access to all of the email client’s  data to sift through and determine which portion was pertinent to  its investigation. Source:

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