Redaction fail: U.S. government admits it went after Lavabit looking for Snowden

Whistleblowers Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning in the installation “Anything to Say?” by Italian artist Davide Dormino. REUTERS

Ladar Levison shut down his secure email service Lavabit in 2013, when the Feds served a warrant and gag-order on him, seeking to get him to backdoor his service to let them snoop on someone. Everyone since then has known that the target of the order was Edward Snowden, but Levison faced jail time if he ever admitted it out loud, under the terms of the gag-order.


Levinson's sued the US government and ever since he's been agitating to get them to publish the case files. The US government just released some of the redacted files into PACER, the open court records system. They redacted all the data that would help a reader identify the target of their warrant, except one thing: his email, which was Ed_Snowden@lavabit.com.

Cut to now. With the Lavabit case long ended, Levison has kept fighting to get more of the documents unsealed and unredacted. He’s been using money raised by supporters back in 2013 to fund the fight for transparency. He filed a motion in December asking an appeals court to unseal documents and vacate a non-disclosure order that has silenced him about the target. It turns out he was a little more successful in that latter request than he thought he was—with a little help from a government error. After a hearing earlier this year, a court denied his motion to unseal and vacate but ordered US attorneys in the case to re-release all “previously filed pleadings, transcripts, and orders” with everything unredacted except “the identity of the subscriber and the subscriber’s email address.” After some negotiation, the government got the court to agree to let it redact other information as well that might harm its investigation into the target.

A Government Error Just Revealed Snowden Was the Target in the Lavabit Case [Kim Zetter/Wired]