This is an interesting piece on the IT company Lavabit, which, before its shutdown, provided secure e-mail services to its customers. The story details the steps taken by the FBI to force Lavabit to turn over encryption keys and take other steps which would not only provide the FBI with access to Edward Snowden’s e-mail account on the service, but would render vulnerable the accounts of any individual or company making use of the service, without warrant and without court oversight.
In pressuring Lavabit to capitulate to its requests for “technical assistance” including divulging the private encryption keys used by the service, the owner of the company was pursued for contempt of court, fined $10,000.00, and then threatened with arrest when he publicly announced his intention to shutter the company.
The tale of Lavabit is something of a cautionary tail for companies that provide IT services. But even more, it should be a wake-up call to both users and providers of IT services regarding the boundaries of privacy and the lengths to which the government is willing to steamroll even legitimate businesses which seek to guard their customer’s privacy.