Lavabit, one of two secure communications services that shut down services in August, reportedly defied repeated demands by the federal government to help it decrypt the email of Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who has been leaking details about America’s surveillance practices to the media.
According to Wired, the FBI pressed Lavabit’s founder Ladar Levison to turn over its private SSL key, a master encryption tool that would have made it possible for the government to monitor Snowden’s email.
Levison refused and closed Lavabit instead. The next day, another secure provider, SilentCircle also shuttered its email service, triggering a debate about the extent to which private communication remains possible in the United States.
The Wired report states that the FBI threatened Lavabit with contempt and obtained a court order that would have forced him to pay $5,000 for every day in which he refused to turn over the key.