Bad news for Lavabit comes from a federal appeals court that upheld a lower court’s earlier ruling, which could translate into heavy fines for Ladar Levison, who refused to aid the feds.
As a reminder, Lavabit is the secure email service that was supposedly used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. After Snowden made his identity public, the Feds demanded that Lavabit hand over the encryption keys to the servers.
Levison refused to comply, but the government was soon back at his doorstep with a court order in hand. Levison contested the case, but he lost and found in contempt after he handed over an unreadable copy of the encryption keys.
The small company was ordered to pay $5,000 per day until it complied, so Lavabit was shut down instead, after Levison said he was not willing to be a part of crimes against the American people.
He appealed the court decision, but the judges turned him down. “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 it no cognizable basis upon which to challenge the Pen/Trap Order,” reads the judgment.
Basically, the court did not exactly say that what the government agencies were requesting was legal in any way or form, just that Lavabit should have complied with the pen register.
The judges also said that the district court did not make a mistake when it found Lavabit and Levison in contempt after they admitted to violating that order. In fact, Levison wasn’t exactly shy in explaining how he dodged delivering the encryption keys to the authorities, saying that by doing so, he wouldn’t just be exposing the investigation’s target, but also all other users of the service – about 400,000 people.
He also took his time, much to the authorities’ annoyance, delivering the SSL keys after six weeks of bickering and going in and out of court. Almost as soon as he handed over the keys, Levison shut down the service.
Even though Levison and his attorney tried to explain to the court what the consequences of complying with the demand could be, no one would listen and the judges took the side of the feds.
It’s unclear at this point whether Levison will go on with the case and if he will appeal to a higher court or not.