The saga of Lavabit founder Ladar Levison is getting even more ridiculous, as he explains that the government has threatened him with criminal charges for his decision to shut down the business, rather than agree to some mysterious court order. The feds are apparently arguing that the act of shutting down the business, itself, was a violation of the order:
… 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.
That same article suggests that the decision to shut down Lavabit was over something much bigger than just looking at one individual’s information — since it appears that Lavabit has cooperated in the past on such cases. Instead, the suggestion now is that the government was seeking a tap on all accounts:
Levison stressed that he has complied with “upwards of two dozen court orders” for information in the past that were targeted at “specific users” and that “I never had a problem with that.” But without disclosing details, he suggested that the order he received more recently was markedly different, requiring him to cooperate in broadly based surveillance that would scoop up information about all the users of his service. He likened the demands to a requirement to install a tap on his telephone.
It sounds like the feds were asking for a full on backdoor on the system, not unlike some previous reports of ISPs who have received surprise visits from the NSA. (Read more)
I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on–the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.
What’s going to happen now? We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company.
This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.
Owner and Operator, Lavabit LLC
Defending the constitution is expensive! Help us by donating to the Lavabit Legal Defense Fund here.
When did we decide that we wanted a law that could make unlocking your smartphone a criminal offense? The answer is that we never really decided.
This is now the law of the land:
BY DECREE OF THE LIBRARIAN OF CONGRESS
IT SHALL HENCEFORCE BE ORDERED THAT AMERICANS SHALL NOT UNLOCK THEIR OWN SMARTPHONES.
PENALTY: In some situations, first time offenders may be fined up to $500,000, imprisoned for five years, or both. For repeat offenders, the maximum penalty increases to a fine of $1,000,000, imprisonment for up to ten years, or both.*
That’s right, starting this weekend it is illegal to unlock new phones to make them available on other carriers.
I have deep sympathy for any individual who happens to get jail time for this offense. I am sure that other offenders would not take kindly to smartphone un-lockers.
But seriously: It’s embarrassing and unacceptable that we are at the mercy of prosecutorial and judicial discretion** to avoid the implementation of draconian laws that could implicate average Americans in a crime subject to up to a $500,000 fine and up to five years in prison. (Read more)
Swartz’s activism, I argued, was waged as part of one of the most vigorously contested battles – namely, the war over how the internet is used and who controls the information that flows on it – and that was his real crime in the eyes of the US government: challenging its authority and those of corporate factions to maintain a stranglehold on that information. In that above-referenced speech on SOPA, Swartz discussed the grave dangers to internet freedom and free expression and assembly posed by the government’s efforts to control the internet with expansive interpretations of copyright law and other weapons to limit access to information.
That’s a major part of why I consider him heroic. He wasn’t merely sacrificing himself for a cause. It was a cause of supreme importance to people and movements around the world – internet freedom – and he did it by knowingly confronting the most powerful state and corporate factions because he concluded that was the only way to achieve these ends.
Suicide is an incredibly complicated phenomenon. I didn’t know Swartz nearly well enough even to form an opinion about what drove him to do this; I had a handful of exchanges with him online in which we said nice things about each other’s work and I truly admired him. I’m sure even his closest friends and family are struggling to understand exactly what caused him to defy his will to live by taking his own life.
But, despite his public and very sad writings about battling depression, it only stands to reason that a looming criminal trial that could send him to prison for decades played some role in this; even if it didn’t, this persecution by the DOJ is an outrage and an offense against all things decent, for the reasons Lessig wrote today:
“Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The ‘property’ Aaron had ‘stolen’, we were told, was worth ‘millions of dollars’ — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.
“A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.
“For remember, we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House — and where even those brought to ‘justice’ never even have to admit any wrongdoing, let alone be labeled ‘felons’.”
Whatever else is true, Swartz was destroyed by a “justice” system that fully protects the most egregious criminals as long as they are members of or useful to the nation’s most powerful factions, but punishes with incomparable mercilessness and harshness those who lack power and, most of all, those who challenge power.
Swartz knew all of this. But he forged ahead anyway. He could have easily opted for a life of great personal wealth, status, prestige and comfort. He chose instead to fight – selflessly, with conviction and purpose, and at great risk to himself – for noble causes to which he was passionately devoted. That, to me, isn’t an example of heroism; it’s the embodiment of it, its purest expression. It’s the attribute our country has been most lacking.
I always found it genuinely inspiring to watch Swartz exude this courage and commitment at such a young age. His death had better prompt some serious examination of the DOJ’s behavior – both in his case and its warped administration of justice generally. But his death will also hopefully strengthen the inspirational effects of thinking about and understanding the extraordinary acts he undertook in his short life.
While details of a futuristic and frightening global surveillance network called TrapWire are discovered, members of the Anonymous collective are calling for people everywhere to voice their opposition and help end the system, starting this Saturday.
“As we learn about TrapWire and similar systems in the surveillance industry, it becomes more apparent that we must, at all costs, shut this system down and render it useless,” active members of the loose-knit hacktivist collective Anonymous write in a press release issued early Thursday. Starting with this weekend, the group is asking for anyone that is concerned with TrapWire and the acceleration of the world into a full-fledged surveillance state to make sure their voices are heard — peacefully.
Only one week after RT first broke news of TrapWire, an intricate global intelligence infrastructure discussed in emails claimed to be compromised from Strategic Forecasting, or Stratfor, activists around the world have denounced the state-of-the-art surveillance system that is believed to be in use at certain locales internationally. (Read more)
Shanghai’s leading code slinger, David Veksler, who is also a good friend and long-time collaborator on all things digital, has come up with something wonderfully subversive. It is an encrypted messaging service that takes a giant step toward making cryptography available to the rest of us.
It is called cryptabyte.com. It is the first, easy-to-use, web-based service to provide absolutely uncrackable security in communications and file sharing. It’s a free product for now, and will probably remain so, but I have hopes that he can eventually commercialize it, if only to insure its viability over time.
This new technology is a brilliant example of a theme I’ve been turning over in my mind, namely, how technology is blazing new trails to give us freer lives even in times of rising state despotism the world over. It is becoming clearer by the day that it is not the politicians or even the intellectuals who are going to save civilization but the entrepreneurs and the digital cowboys who are liberating humanity in practical ways, every day. (Read more)
Last week The Pirate Bay added a new IP-address which allows users to circumvent the many court-ordered blockades against the site. While this proved to be quite effective, the Hollywood backed anti-piracy group BREIN has already been to court to demand a block against this new address. But that won’t deter The Pirate Bay, who say they are fully prepared for an extended game of whac-a-mole using the hundreds of IP addresses they have available.
The Pirate Bay is arguably the most censored website on the Internet.
Courts all around the world have ordered Internet providers to block subscriber access to the torrent site, and the end is still not in sight.
Within a few days, a new deadline for five UK and five Dutch Internet providers passes. This means that millions more will be unable to access The Pirate Bay, at least, that is the plan.
Last week The Pirate Bay team responded to the blockades by adding a new IP-address. The new location was setup to make it easier for people to start their own dedicated proxy sites, but it also allows blocked Pirate Bay visitors to gain access to the site.
Instead of the normal address they simply go to 188.8.131.52, bypassing the court order – for the time being at least. (Read more)
In 2011, the US government rolled out its “International Strategy for Cyberspace,” which reminded us that “interconnected networks link nations more closely, so an attack on one nation’s networks may have impact far beyond its borders.” An in-depth report today from the New York Times confirms the truth of that statement as it finally lays bare the history and development of the Stuxnet virus—and how it accidentally escaped from the Iranian nuclear facility that was its target.
The article is adapted from journalist David Sanger’s forthcoming book, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, and it confirms that both the US and Israeli governments developed and deployed Stuxnet. The goal of the worm was to break Iranian nuclear centrifuge equipment by issuing specific commands to the industrial control hardware responsible for their spin rate. By doing so, both governments hoped to set back the Iranian research program—and the US hoped to keep Israel from launching a pre-emptive military attack. (Read more)
From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.
Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks — begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games — even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet.
At a tense meeting in the White House Situation Room within days of the worm’s “escape,” Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and the director of the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, Leon E. Panetta, considered whether America’s most ambitious attempt to slow the progress of Iran’s nuclear efforts had been fatally compromised. (Read more)
A top Israeli minister yesterday fed speculation that the Jewish state could be responsible for a powerful new virus said to have been used in a fresh attack on computers in Iran and elsewhere in the Middle East.
The discovery of the unprecedented complex data-stealing “Flame” virus was disclosed by a Russian-based digital security firm Kaspersky Lab. Its experts reported on Monday that it had been applied most actively in Iran, but also in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
Moshe Yaalon, Israel’s Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister, told the country’s Army Radio: “Anyone who sees the Iranian threat as a significant threat – it’s reasonable [to assume] that he will take various steps, including these, to harm it.”
Mr Yaalon, a former military Chief of Staff, added: “Israel was blessed as being a country rich with high-tech. These tools that we take pride in open up all kinds of opportunities for us.” (Read more)
CNET‘s excellent technology reporter, Declan McCullagh, reports on ongoing efforts by the Obama administration to force the Internet industry to provide the U.S. Government with “backdoor” access to all forms of Internet communication:
The FBI is asking Internet companies not to oppose a controversial proposal that would require firms, including Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, and Google, to build in backdoors for government surveillance. . . . That included a scheduled trip this month to the West Coast — which was subsequently postponed — to meet with Internet companies’ CEOs and top lawyers. . . .
The FBI general counsel’s office has drafted a proposed law that the bureau claims is the best solution: requiring that social-networking Web sites and providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail alter their code to ensure their products are wiretap-friendly.
“If you create a service, product, or app that allows a user to communicate, you get the privilege of adding that extra coding,” an industry representative who has reviewed the FBI’s draft legislation told CNET.
As for the substance of this policy, I wrote about this back in September, 2010, when it first revealed that the Obama administration was preparing legislation to mandate that “all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct ‘peer to peer’ messaging like Skype” — be designed to ensure government surveillance access. This isn’t about expanding the scope of the government’s legal surveillance powers — numerous legislative changes since 2001 have already accomplished that quite nicely — but is about ensuring the government’s physical ability to intrude into all forms of Internet communication.
What was most amazing to me back when I first wrote about these Obama administration efforts was that a mere six weeks earlier, a major controversy had erupted when Saudi Arabia and the UAE both announced a ban on BlackBerries on the ground that they were physically unable to monitor the communications conducted on those devices. Since Blackberry communication data are sent directly to servers in Canada and the company which operates Blackberry — Research in Motion — refused to turn the data over to those governments, “authorities [in those two tyrannies] decided to ban Blackberry services rather than continue to allow an uncontrolled and unmonitored flow of electronic information within their borders.” As I wrote at the time: “that’s the core mindset of the Omnipotent Surveillance State: above all else, what is strictly prohibited is the ability of citizens to communicate in private; we can’t have any ‘uncontrolled and unmonitored flow of electronic information’.”
In response to that controversy, the Obama administration actually condemned the Saudi and UAE ban, calling it “a dangerous precedent” and a threat to “democracy, human rights and freedom of information.” Yet six weeks later, the very same Obama administration embraced exactly the same rationale — that it is intolerable for any human interaction to take place beyond the prying eyes and ears of the government — when it proposed its mandatory “backdoor access” for all forms of Internet communication. (Read more)