The email provider was used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and Wired reports that according to newly unsealed documents, the US government got a search warrant in July to demand from Lavabit the private SSL keys that protected all Web traffic to the site.
This order came after Lavabit refused to budge in earlier demands to defeat its own security system so the government could monitor a particular Lavabit user’s metadata, likely to be Snowden.
Wired reported the government as complaining that a Lavabit representative “indicated that Lavabit had the technical capability to decrypt the information, but that Lavabit did not want to ‘defeat [its] own system.”
This eventually led to the government demanding more: they wanted “all information necessary to decrypt communications sent to or from the Lavabit e-mail account [redacted] including encryption keys and SSL keys.”
In an attempt at dry humor, Lavabit founder Ladar Levison complied with this by turning over the private SSL keys as an 11 page printout in 4-point type — which the government called “illegible.”
That didn’t work out so well. The court ordered Levison to provide a more useful copy of the SSL keys, but he continued refusing, leading to a fine being slapped on Levison: $5,000 a day starting August 6 till he was willing to hand over what the government wanted.
August 8 was when Lavabit announced on its website that it would be shut down.
Headline image via Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images