Large web companies such as Google, Yahoo! and Bing have rolled over to requests and court orders made by the U.S. government to spy on their users' emails.
In September, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer told the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco that she feared treason charges and imprisonment for not complying, reported DailyTech.com.
"If you don't comply, it is treason, We can't talk about it because it is classified. Releasing classified information is treason, and you are incarcerated. In terms of protecting our users, it makes more sense to work within the system," said Mayer.
However, a much smaller company, Lavabit, did not "work within the system," but rather fought the U.S. government to the point of closing its service to protect its users.
This past summer, the FBI demanded SSL keys from Lavabit to spy on Lavabit's users, and possibly one user in particular, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
According to Wired, Lavabit refused to agree to a so-called “pen register” request by the FBI on June 28.
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The pen register request was asking the email provider to trace the internet IP address of an individual user, only weeks after the first Snowden NSA leaks.
While the identity of the FBI’s target was not disclosed in court papers, the suspect is described as having committed violations under the Espionage Act, which Snowden has been charged with.
When Lavabit refused to comply with the pen register request, the FBI sought a court order to compel the company to give in.
Federal prosecutors also asked a court to hold Lavabit founder Ladar Levinson in contempt “for its disobedience and resistance to these lawful orders.”
A court-ordered search warrant was issued that demanding “all information necessary to decrypt communications sent to or from the Lavabit email account [redacted] including encryption keys and SSL keys.”
The encryption keys and SSL keys would have given the FBI access to all 350,000 email users on Lavabit.
Instead of giving in, Levinson closed down Lavabit on August 8 and stated: “I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly 10 years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations.”
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Levinson has so far raised over $60K via a donation page on Rally.org towards his $90K legal fees to fight the U.S. government in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, reports the International Business Times.