Privacy takes a beating in the FBI's kangaroo court

Feds ran roughshod over Lavabit, forcing it to shut down and proving the government is fighting to win -- and fighting dirty -- in the privacy wars

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Once standing alone in court, Levison discovered that the government had merrily pulled the ole switcheroo and swapped out the encryption key demand for a straight search warrant and also set up a new court date. Levison tried to hire a small Virginia law firm to help him, but according to Levison, they were immediately castrated like harem guards because the judge forbade them to consult outside experts concerning both the statutes as well as the technology involved in the case. It wouldn't even deliver transcripts of Levison's first court appearance until two months later. Wow.

Not content with that low blow, another judge took a break from golf and kitten chewing long enough to enter a contempt charge against Levison without holding a hearing and ignoring his attorney's request to argue the charge. Since the hearing didn't happen, Levison thinks the appellate court will simply say his right to counsel was waived and he'll be ... well, screwed to put it mildly. Wow.

Levison has been fighting his legal battle -- only some of which has been detailed here -- ever since, but he published an open letter yesterday that finally admits defeat. Basically, our Uncle Sam stymied every legal course Lavabit had to ensure its customers' email privacy.

In fact, the prosecution (a strange term, considering this wasn't a criminal case until the end) said Lavabit's customers had no expectation of privacy even though that was the company's whole focus and, supposedly, our God-given right. It claimed that current technology doesn't allow user-specific information to be identified until all data flowing in and out of Lavabit's servers had been decrypted and analyzed. It posited that because computers were doing the analysis, not people, it wasn't subject to normal search and seizure laws.

The kitten chewers agreed. Faced with being unable to maintain his company's privacy promise, Levison felt he had no choice but to shut his doors, and despite a brave battle, he's not going to be allowed to open them again. Wow.

So if they can't get you to knuckle under, they just drive you out of business by deciding they're simply above the law, and if we don't like it, well who cares, and here's a vicious legal smack down for even trying to fight back. There's your sucker punch and 15 steps back. Again, all I have is ... wow.

This article, "Privacy takes a beating in the FBI's kangaroo court," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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