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Edward Snowden’s favorite secure email service appeals order that shut it down

Lavabit founder Ladar Levison is barred from discussing the order that shut down his company, but that won't stop him from appealing it.


Curt Hopkins


Posted on Sep 12, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 6:42 am CDT

In early August, the secure email service used by Edward Snowden, Lavabit, announced it would shut down rather than risk having to turn over customer records to the government. But on August 29, owner Ladar Levison filed an appeal against the secret surveillance orders that triggered the shutdown decision. 

The details of his appeal were immediately placed under seal in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, according to court records obtained by Wired.

The two court cases Levison is appealing, now consolidated, consist of the case labeled “1:13?sw?522,” and listed as “Under Seal,” and “1:13-dm-22,” labeled “Grand Jury Proceedings.” “Sw” in the first order stands for “search warrant.”

Snowden had used Lavabit, most famously to arrange a press conference in the Moscow airport where he resided while his application for temporary asylum in Russia was being considered. However, he had the account since at least January of 2010. 

The government’s instructions to Lavabit have not been disclosed. Levison is, in fact, legally blocked from discussing them.

“What information could Lavabit even produce that would be of interest to a government agency?” asked security consultant Mark Burnett. “Unencrypted emails, customer IP addresses, customer payment methods, and customer passwords. Based on media statements, it appears that he would be required to provide unencrypted copies of all emails going through his system.”

Given the chinks that have begun to appear in the NSA’s armor and that of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Levision has decided to force the issue. 

On October 3rd, Levison’s opening brief is due. Although it will no doubt also be placed under seal, a redacted version will probably be provided to the public as per the appellate court’s rules. 

H/T Wired | Photo via Ladar Levison/Facebook

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*First Published: Sep 12, 2013, 12:24 pm CDT