Ladar Levison, the tech executive who closed his secure email service last month, says the Obama administration has created a surveillance state on a scale that has not been seen since the communist witch hunts of the 1950s.
Levison, founder of Lavabit, is caught in a legal and political battle among the White House, the National Security Agency, fugitive whistle-blower Edward Snowden and the international public targeted by the U.S. government’s spying activities.
“We are entering a time of state-sponsored intrusion into our privacy that we haven’t seen since the McCarthy era. And it’s on a much broader scale,” Levison told The Guardian. His shuttered email service is at the center of a potentially historic legal battle that could determine the reach of privacy rights in the digital age.
Upon closing his service earlier this month, the 32-year-old posted a message saying that staying in business would make him “complicit in crimes against the American people.” Levison is not allowed to talk about the order the government has given him, nor is he permitted to say exactly what he can’t talk about without risking charges of contempt of court.
Truthdig’s editors recently recognized Levison as their Truthdigger of the Week.
—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.
It appears that Levison – who would not confirm this – has received a national security letter (NSL), a legal attempt to force him to hand over any and all data his company has so that the US authorities can track Snowden and anyone he communicated with. The fact that he closed the service rather than comply may well have opened him up to other legal challenges – about which he also can not comment.
What he will say is that he is locked in a legal battle he hopes one day will finally make it clear what the US government can and can not legally demand from companies. “The information technology sector of our country deserves a legislative mandate that will allow us to provide private and secure services so our customers, both here and abroad, don’t feel they are being used as listening posts for an American surveillance network,” he says.
And in the meantime what he will not do is stay silent – within legal limits. “I will stand on my soapbox and shout and shout as loudly as I can for as long as people will listen. My biggest fear is that the sacrifice of my business will have been in vain. My greatest hope is that same sacrifice will result in a positive change,” he says, words that closely echo Snowden’s own feelings about becoming a whistleblower.
Susan NYC (CC BY 2.0)