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Lavabit was under FBI pressure to decrypt Snowden connections, court reveals

Jon Fingas, @jonfingas
October 2, 2013
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When Lavabit shut down in the wake of Edward Snowden's leaks, it left a big question unanswered: just what did the US government want that was supposedly so egregious? Thanks to newly unsealed court documents obtained by Wired, we now know much more of the story. The FBI had served Lavabit an order requiring that it hand over Snowden's encryption keys, helping the agency install a device that would collect metadata from its suspect's email connections. Lavabit repeatedly turned down the requests since it could have given access to data from every user of the service -- at one point it did serve up the SSL keys, but printed out on 11 pages in 4pt type -- which led to threats of criminal contempt charges and fines. We all know what happened afterward -- company founder Ladar Levison chose to shutter Lavabit rather than comply with the FBI's demands. While the new details aren't shocking given the government's desire to catch Snowden, they help explain Levison's past statements; he felt that it was better to defend Lavabit in court than risk violating the privacy of his customers.

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