Will Conservative Dallas Rally Behind Privacy Defender Ladar Levison?

Categories: Schutze

This is a conservative town, generally speaking, would you not agree? Dallas may even be a bastion of belief in the private sector and the rights of the individual, not to mention skepticism of government. So I wonder how Dallas will react to the story of its own citizen, Ladar Levison.

As Eric reported this morning, Levison has just emerged from a form of federal house arrest imposed after he shut down his Dallas-based email service. Last May, federal agents demanded Levison give them wholesale access to the secure emails of 400,000 customers, only one of whom was a federal target.

U.S. District Court Eastern Virginia
Note the judge's scribbled threat at the bottom
Levison based his 10-year-old business on a vow to provide an absolutely private and secure email service. In spite of that promise to his customers, Levison had complied on occasion in the past with previous "pen register" demands from law enforcement for email records of certain specific clients including one accused of child pornography.

But when he balked at what he thought was the overly broad nature of the May demand, the government just came back tougher, eventually ordering him to rip his privacy shield for all of his customers, most whom the government conceded in court were not suspected of anything at all.

No one, including Levison, has been allowed to say who the feds were looking for last May. It's clear from news reports and one mention in a court document, perhaps inadvertently omitted from redaction, that the target was NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Levison has admitted in an interview that Snowden was his client.

Had Levison turned over the keys to his whole operation while continuing to promise clients absolute privacy, he would have been engaging in at least a moral fraud, if not a legal one. Rather than do that, he shut his company down, posting a plaintive if elliptical cry for help on his web page.

His statement to customers ended on a haunting note: "This experience has taught me one very important lesson," Levison wrote. "Without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would strongly recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States."

Full documents in the case have been posted by WIRED magazine.

Levison's dilemma turns on a little known legal device used by federal investigators originally called a "national security letter," now perhaps called something else because of recent revisions to the law. National security letters, previously issued by FBI agents without ever going to court to get a judge's order, require the recipient to do what the agent tells him to do, but they also forbid the person under threat of criminal penalties to tell anyone, even a lawyer, that he has received the letter.

If the recipient of a national security letter or equivalent document even mentions to a co-worker that he has received such a letter, he can be sent to federal prison for five years.

Levison says he consulted a lawyer anyway and eventually went to the American Civil Liberties Union because he just didn't believe such an order could be legal. The fact that documents in his case have now been unsealed and a court has removed his gag order must mean that a federal judge thinks at least some of his argument is worth hearing.

Even though he was not allowed to say much about the fine points of his legal predicament while he was still under a gag order, he did suggest broadly in a television interview on Democracy Now that the letter or order he received came not from an FBI agent alone but with the additional imprimatur of a Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court. But he suggested his order was, if anything, even more draconian and devastating to his rights and freedoms than the original national security letters were when they came straight from the FBI.

Maybe it's worth remembering what one United States senator had to say in 2005 about the legislation authorizing national security letters:

Once a business or a person receives notification that they will be searched, they are prohibited from telling anyone about it, and they are even prohibited from challenging this automatic gag order in court ...

If someone wants to know why their own government has decided to go on a fishing expedition through every personal record or a private document, through the library books that you read, the phone calls that you made, the emails that you sent, this legislation gives people no rights to appeal such a search in a court of law. No judge will hear your plea. No jury will hear your case. This is just plain wrong.

United States Senator Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois

If you have time to read through the court docs in this case, the strongest theme to emerge will be the mounting fury of federal agents as Levison tries to find compromises, appeals and even some fairly stupid tricks to get them off his back and avoid having to deceive his own clients or kill his own company. Every time Levison ducks or dodges, the feds come back harder. Their reach becomes more ruthless.

It's almost like they're telling Levison, "If you think you don't like what we're going to do to your clients who are legitimate targets, watch what we do to the ones who aren't even suspected of anything. Oh, and remember not to tell anybody, or we'll put you in prison."

It reminds me of a bunch of research I did some years ago about how to encrypt my own stuff. I was more interested in bank account passwords than top-secret intelligence about curbs, gutters and drainage projects -- the stuff of my work for the most part. (There are some secrets in my area, but they're not what you would call top.)

Finally I came across a comment on a blog. Some guy pointed out there is no digital encryption you can achieve, no conceivable formula or algorithm you can employ capable of foiling the person who wants your data and happens to have a pipe-wrench upside your head when he asks for it.

Oh, yeah. Pipe wrenches.

So I guess that's what our government uses on us now, and I just wondered if anybody in Dallas gave a shit.

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I got your point on this subject somewhere in the early 70s. It was scary then, too. You see, we had this President that had no respect for the Constitution, and we had a power machine that was drunk on the excesses of wars on poorly chosen enemies like small Southeast Asian countries and weed. Glad we got that guy out of office.

primi_timpano topcommenter

The NSA activities present the greatest threat to our civil liberties ever to arise in our nation. This compilation of data exposes large swathes of our private lives to those who wish to examine them. Paid with a credit card? Cell phone on?

The combination of unlimited data storage, nearly unlimited processing power, and an army of nerds developing newer and faster ways to parse the data, will be the foundation for manipulating and extorting our citizens and foreign allies. This is so beyond the imaginations of Orwell and other sci-fi fiction, it is shudderingly frightful. This is a greater threat to our nation than all the terrorists and rogue nations combined.

TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

Listen up, citizens -Your only hope at this point is to be an acquiescent and anonymous number of the horde.

You have been assimilated.


Looking at the paltry number of comments at this progressive publication, looks like "Progressive Dallas" is not all that interested.  Oh, well, they are getting their bread, circuses and Obamacare, so why should they worry?  Gotta crack a few eggs (and heads) on the way to progresso-topia.


Read through some of the docs.  Not good for the blood pressure.


And, to answer the Q at the top, Probably not, because even with all the refneck, tea party 'conservatism', they are still moronic law and order ranters, slavishly obeisant to authority.


If you transported 99.99 % of the 'authorities' and the complacent citizenry back to 1776, we would still be British. These judges, and "law enforcement" are just power mad scum.


Remember the three basic tenets of our current Federal Government:

War is Peace

Ignorance is Strength

Freedom is Slavery

I'm personally going to vote for Emmanuel Goldstein in the next election (about 32 years late).


I wonder, is there a Rape Crisis Center for amendments to the Bill of Rights?

"What do you say to a Fourth amendment with two black eyes?  Nothing. Bitch already been told twice by PATRIOT to give it up."


But at least we don't live in a police state where faceless gov't agents can sit around and listen in to every one of our communications.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

Be afraid, be vary afraid.

GW, BF, TJ and JH and the others must be spinning in their graves, saying: "We did what, for what and what happened?"


Jim: I'm surprised you exposed the bitter hypocrisy of the president. You are such a tea bagger!

RTGolden1 topcommenter

There is no privacy in electronic communication.  None whatsoever.  If you think there is, you are living in a fantasy.  Everything from telegraph to satellite phones is exploitable.  Unless you have direct physical control, over 100% of the transmission route, 100% of the transmission time, you are vulnerable.  Best way to approach it is:  Unless you are in a sealed room, that you sealed yourself and swept for bugs, and you pass the message face to face to the intended recipient, your privacy has been breached.  And unless you kill the intended recipient after they receive the message, your privacy is still vulnerable.


It would be a real shame if such a tyrannical government were somehow shut down.

holmantx topcommenter

Included in one of the big omnibus funding acts and in the formation of Homeland Security a few years back, our vaunted statesmen hid a hideous rider to allow the federal agencies to "share" information on its citizens.  It appears this platform is now operational:

The Law Enforcement Information Sharing Service is a web-based data exchange platform, hosted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that allows law enforcement agencies to rapidly share and access data related to criminal and national security investigations.

The automated service offers a more efficient system for requesting and sharing investigative information, helping investigators to more quickly identify patterns, connections and relationships between individuals and criminal organizations.

DHS law enforcement information is processed through the ICE Pattern Analysis and Information Collection System and includes information from subject records and closed cases concerning people, businesses, vehicles (including aircraft and seacraft), firearms and more.

The Law Enforcement Information Sharing Service currently provides federal, state, local, tribal and international law enforcement agency partners with access to more than 2.6 million subject records related to persons of interest, including suspects in child pornography, drug smuggling, immigration fraud, alien smuggling and a wide range of other cases.


IRS information sharing programs save government resources through partnerships between IRS and federal, state and municipal governmental agencies. The goal of these programs is to enhance voluntary compliance with tax laws.

This includes facilitating the exchange of taxpayer data, leveraging resources, providing assistance to taxpayers to improve compliance and communications, and identifying and reporting information on emerging tax administration issues.

Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 6103 authorizes the IRS to share tax information by entering into agreements with governmental agencies for tax administration purposes. Comparable laws allow agencies to share their information with the IRS.

The three components of the IRS information sharing program are:

Federal Information Sharing 

State Information Sharing 

Local Information Sharing



This is no longer tin-foil hat crap.  

everlastingphelps topcommenter

I'm sure he'll be getting a call from the IRS now.  Everyone who has crossed President Obama has.

I'm still trying to figure out why President Obama hasn't had that Senator Obama guy audited.  He's against him on everything -- warrantless searches, attacks on American citizens, Gitmo, the debt ceiling, everything.

You think maybe if we elected that Senator Obama guy we could get some Change?  Any Hope of that?

JimSX topcommenter


Our most loyal and frequent commenters are troglo-conservatives. I think they are not showing up on this issue because they can't reconcile their authority fetishism with their egoistic libertarian narcissism. 


Pharisees would be the word I'd use to descibe them.


@roo_ster ...well they may not be listening to "every" communication...but it seems like they can...and if you happen to actually stand up and they happen to accidently tap you with a taser or even blast you with their nine millimeter, no one wants to challenge them...because they are the POLICE and they have got to be blameless and 100 percent right...after all, they are all that stands between us and the terrorist...right???

everlastingphelps topcommenter

 @Rix1 This is like one of those moments on the Daily Show where the audience can tell that Jon Stewart just said something Important because he was shouting and making the Serious Face, but they can't tell whether or not they are supposed to clap or laugh because he was bagging on the Administration.

Those are really the only parts of the show that are entertaining anymore.


 Limited govt conservatives (as opposed to social conservatives) don't like authority much at all. Not sure how minding my own business and expecting others to do the same is narcissistic...

Levison walked the tightrope as best he could given the circumstances.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter


Jim, a true conservative would be aghast ( and then some ) from this matter.

Now what were these discussions about a well regulated militia?

holmantx topcommenter


The true Left and the Libertarians are outnumbered by the Liberals and Neoconservatism.

The latter two do not have a problem with the trade-off between freedom and security (safety).

Today's Liberals can't let voters decide local elections due to a myriad of social issues and the neos are proponents of 'The Noble Lie" (Machiavellianism).

holmantx topcommenter

@ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul @JimSX 

The neos have rebranded conservatives as paleo-conservatives (code word for anti-Semites).  The Buchananites, so to speak.  The neos now consider themselves moderate (sane) conservatives.

The Libertarians are in revolt against the neos, who control the Republican Party.  The Left is being shunted aside by the New Left Radicals (Liberals - formerly known as McGovernites).

The Liberals have been just as effective calling the paleos racist as the neos have branded them Joooooo-haters.

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