Secret Court Battles

Kevin Poulsen of Wired, quoting Lavabit’s Ladar Levinson:

I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. […]

Reading between the lines, it’s reasonable to assume Levison has been fighting either a National Security Letter seeking customer information — which comes by default with a gag order — or a full-blown search or eavesdropping warrant.

I understand the imperative for secrecy when dealing with sensitive national security matters, but this is madness. The NSA is fighting in the dark against people who have only ever worked in darkness, and they’re fighting with crude tools which collect information in the aggregate. And nobody can do anything about it.

Well, except the US president:

“It’s right to ask questions about surveillance, particularly as technology is reshaping every aspect of our lives,” Mr. Obama said, adding: “It’s not enough for me, as president, to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them as well.”

It’s more complex than that — the programs may not target US citizens (though they’re getting caught in the crossfire), but they do target anyone who lives in any other country and has data passing through US networks; owing to the way in which the internet is structured, that applies to nearly everything. It doesn’t matter whether those countries are allies or not, because this whole operation is, scarily enough, legal.