- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2013

The man who ran the encrypted email service used by NSA leaker Edward J. Snowden believes he only escaped jail because of all the media attention on the case.

Ladar Levinson abruptly shuttered his company Lavabit last week, saying federal authorities had gagged him from explaining why. 

“Our federal government has the power to take all of your money and your freedom, and they’ve shown no shame in using those powers to get what they want and to punish people who speak out against them,” Levinson said Wednesday.

“I kind of think the only reason I’m not in jail right now is because of all the media attention,” he told HuffPost Live webTV in his first television interview.

He suggested that privacy, even for users of encryption, might be hard to come by for Americans.

“When you communicate electronically in this day and age you have no privacy, at least not when it comes to privacy from the federal government,” he said.

Last week, Mr. Levison abruptly announced he was closing Lavabit.

“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,” he wrote in a brief note on the company’s website. 

“I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot,” he went on.

Wednesday he declined to elaborate, saying “I’m not actively trying to go to jail.”

He accused the federal government of gagging him.

“Our government today is trying to use secrecy to cover up anything that they think will be politically unacceptable,” he said. 

The gag order suggests that Mr. Levison was served a national security letter — administrative subpoenas issued by the FBI without any judicial review. They require companies to produce business records.

Targets of such subpoenas are forbidden to disclose they have even received such an order. Company officials cannot even reveal it to their boards of directors.

Initially created to get bank records in money-laundering investigations, the subpoena authority was expanded to cover communications providers by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the antiterrorism laws hurriedly enacted in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In June, Mr. Snowden revealed that national security letters were served on U.S. telephone companies to enable the NSA to build a vast database of information about every phone call made in the United States.

Lawmakers who helped draft the Patriot Act have said they did not intend the provision to be used in this fashion, but Obama administration officials have said they informed Congress about the program in closed briefings and in recently declassified letters.


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