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As the Times reported last week, the unsealed documents reveal that the first chapter of Levison’s “tangle with law enforcement” began in May—well before the first Snowden leak of the N.S.A.’s massive database of call logs broke in June—when an F.B.I. agent left his business card on Levison’s doorstep. On June 10th, the government secured an order from the Eastern District of Virginia. The order, issued under the Stored Communications Act, required Lavabit to turn over to the F.B.I. retrospective information about one account, widely presumed to be that of Snowden. (The name of the target remains redacted, and Levison could not divulge it.) The order directed Lavabit to surrender names and addresses, Internet Protocol and Media Access Control addresses, the volume of each and every data transfer, the duration of every “session,” and the “source and destination” of all communications associated with the account. It also forbade Levison and Lavabit from discussing the matter with anyone.
When Levison didn’t comply, the government issued a summons, “United States of America v. Ladar Levison,” ordering him to explain himself on July 16th. The newly unsealed documents reveal tense talks between Levison and the F.B.I. in July. Levison wanted additional assurances that any device installed in the Lavabit system would capture only narrowly targeted data, and no more. He refused to provide real-time access to Lavabit data; he refused to go to court unless the government paid for his travel; and he refused to work with the F.B.I.’s technology unless the government paid him for “developmental time and equipment.”
At approximately 1:30 p.m. CDT on August 2, 2013, Mr. Levison gave the F.B.I. a printout of what he represented to be the encryption keys needed to operate the pen register. This printout, in what appears to be four-point type, consists of eleven pages of largely illegible characters. To make use of these keys, the F.B.I. would have to manually input all two thousand five hundred and sixty characters, and one incorrect keystroke in this laborious process would render the F.B.I. collection system incapable of collecting decrypted data.