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Secrecy gone crazy

NBC News reports that Ladar Levinson, the head of encrypted mail service provider Lavabit, who shut down his company rather than comply with a secret government demand, was threatened with arrest for taking that action.

But a source familiar with the matter told NBC News that James Trump, a senior litigation counsel in the U.S. attorney’s office in Alexandria, Va., sent an email to Levison’s lawyer last Thursday – the day Lavabit was shuttered — stating that Levison may have “violated the court order,” a statement that was interpreted as a possible threat to charge Levison with contempt of court.

The court order that prompted the action is believed by legal observers to be a sealed subpoena or a national security letter requiring him to cooperate in surveillance related to the Snowden investigation. Recipients of such legal orders are barred from publicly comment on them. Levison said he believes this prohibition is a violation of his First Amendment rights while the underlying request violated the Fourth Amendment rights of his customers. “I’m fighting it in every way,” said Levison, adding that he is challenging the government’s action in a federal appeals court.

“Because the government has barred Lavabit from disclosing the nature of its demands, we still don’t know what information the government is seeking, or why it’s seeking it,” said Ben Wizner, a national security lawyer for the ACLU. “It’s hard to have a debate about the reasonableness of the government’s actions — or Lavabit’s response, for that matter — when we don’t know what we’re debating.”

These ‘national security letters’ that the government issues to people forcing them to do things and not allowing them to discuss the contents with anyone, even their lawyers, or let it be known that they even received such a letter, are one of the worst aspects of the national security state. It is government secrecy run totally amuck. In March 2013 the practice was struck down as unconstitutional by a US District Court judge but it was allowed to continue while the government pursues an appeal.

Comments

  1. Jeffrey Johnson says

    This is exactly the kind of thing we have to put a stop to. The government must be monitored by the people, and must be accountable to the people. It can’t assert an unchallengeable authority and an invulnerability to scrutiny, criticism, or legal challenge. This kind of behavior by the government kills what Abraham Lincoln said we fought to preserve, for which he enjoined us to devote ourselves to honor those who gave the “last full measure of devotion”, and so all that sacrifice was not in vain we must resolve ourselves to the task of ensuring that “governement of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

    I can easily acknowledge the utility to the government and to the people it serves of provisionally storing data so that it might someday be useful in tracing, tracking down, capturing, and convicting truly dangerous people.

    But the government agents perpetrating this kind of abusive secrecy and presuming to wield such absolute authority are truly more dangerous to the US than any terrorist. They undermine the very foundations of our nation, which was to be a government whose power is checked by a vigilant public empowered by the freedoms of the first amendment to monitor, debate, protest, and override abuse of power by the government officials. They are first and foremost our servants, a fact they have clearly forgotten.

  2. says

    it was allowed to continue while the government pursues an appeal.

    That’s a sweet special deal. So if I rob a bank and am convicted, and appeal, can I keep robbing banks while the appeal works its way through the system?

  3. left0ver1under says

    I’ll bet the fascist snoops are upset more by the fact that he shut the service down. The people who used Lavabit wanted privacy and thought they were using a secure service, and now the scumbags and ticked off because they can’t snoop on them.

    This is one area where I’d love to see the Pirate Bay get involved, creating a secure mail service that IS secure and doesn’t kowtow to US fascism. I’d pay for such a service.

  4. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    This is one area where I’d love to see the Pirate Bay get involved, creating a secure mail service that IS secure and doesn’t kowtow to US fascism. I’d pay for such a service.

    You’d also have to conceal that you were paying for it, and that you were concealing you were paying for it and…

  5. leni says

    These ‘national security letters’ that the government issues to people forcing them to do things and not allowing them to discuss the contents with anyone, even their lawyers

    I don’t even know what to say. It would be one thing to extend secrecy guidelines to legal council, one very disturbing thing, but to prevent people from even seeking legal council?

    I would love to read the ruling striking that down but right now I’m angry and disgusted to think clearly.

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