WORTH REPEATING: Man Who Knew Too Much


NEW YORKER: On August 8th, Lavabit, newly famous for being the secure e-mail service used by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, went dark. Its owner and operator, Ladar Levison, replaced its home page with a message: “I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.” Levison could write only that he chose to shut down the company rather than “become complicit in crimes against the American people,” and he promised to “fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

Court-watchers repeatedly checked the Fourth Circuit docket to see whether Levison would follow through. While the Fourth Circuit kept the appeals secret and placed them under seal, observers deduced that Levison’s appeals were the ones numbered 13-4625 and 13-4626. Last week, U.S. District Judge Claude M. Hilton unsealed a hundred and sixty-two pages of previously secret documents related to two District Court orders issued against Lavabit, so that Levison could have a public record of his appeals. These disclosures fall short of the ideal of open justice, but they do give Levison’s ordeal a public shape.

They also allow Levison to speak more openly now. This past weekend, in Manhattan’s Bryant Park, his demeanor was steady, if clearly burdened; he is, after all, a man who was forced to destroy the business he had spent most of the past decade building, and who is locked in a legal and philosophical battle against the United States government. Levison wore a white, starched collared shirt with thin gold cufflinks; the afternoon was warm, and sweat, mixed with the gel that fixed his hair in a slightly spiked coiffure, dotted his forehead. He spoke sternly but calmly—his tenor lacked the quiet frenzy of, say, Thomas Drake, the N.S.A. whistleblower, even though most of what he had to say was bad news, if you value electronic privacy or security. MORE