NBC reports that senior US Attorney James Trump sent Lavabit founder Ladar Levison and his lawyer a veiled arrest threat when Levison shut down his private email service (used by NSA leaker Edward Snowden) rather than comply with a secret order to spy on his customers. Nothing more can be said definitively, because the order to Levison came with a gag order prohibiting Levison from discussing it. Everyone is pretty sure that Levison was served with a National Security Letter.
This gives additional context to the decision of Lavabit competitor Silent Circle to pre-emptively shut down its own private email service as well, in advance of any sort of court order. If a secret court can issue a secret order requiring you to spy on your customers, and if shutting down the service will land you in jail, then simply not operating the kind of service that spooks find snoopworthy is the only option.
Levison said he has been "threatened with arrest multiple times over the past six weeks," but that he was making a stand on principle: "I think it's important to point out that what prompted me to shut down my service wasn't access to one person's data. It was about protecting the privacy of all my users."
He has also started a legal defense fund and said he's gotten "an overwhelming response," raising more than $90,000 in the past few days. Among those now backing him is former Texas congressman and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, who told NBC News on Tuesday that Levison's legal battle "should be in the interests of everybody who cares about liberty."
Lavabit.com owner: 'I could be arrested' for resisting surveillance order [Michael Isikoff/NBC]