Lavabit encryption key ruling threatens Internet privacy, EFF argues

Asking for private SSL keys could hurt the US economy and cause service providers to move to other legal jurisdictions

A court order forcing former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's email provider to turn over its master encryption key undermines a critical security feature used by major Internet services, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said Thursday.

The EFF, a digital rights watchdog, filed a brief on Thursday in support of the email provider, Lavabit, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Lavabit founder Ladar Levison was found in contempt of court for resisting an order to turn over his company's private SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) key, used to encrypt communications for 400,000 users. He is appealing.

The U.S. government is believed to have sought access to the account of Snowden, who gave out a Lavabit email address after arriving in Russia, but he has not been named in the court documents.

Turning over the private SSL key would have allowed the government to potentially access the communications of all of Lavabit's users, violating the U.S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment protections against overly broad warrants.

"This is like trying to hit a nail with a wrecking ball," the EFF wrote in its brief.

Service providers including Facebook, Google, Bank of America and Amazon rely on SSL -- designated by "https" in a browser's address field -- to protect communications with users.

"Facebook has a single private key that protects the communications of over 1.26 billion users," the EFF wrote. "In the case of Facebook, having the private key used by the company would give unfettered access to the personal information of almost 20 percent of all of the human beings on the planet obtained through the Facebook site for three years."

The EFF argued that the breach of private keys could have a profound effect on the U.S. economy, with service providers likely to move to legal jurisdictions "that afford more protections for privacy and security."

Lavabit was initially served with a pen register order that required it to provide metadata association with the email account the government sought. But like other privacy-focused email and VPN service providers, Lavabit's systems were designed to not retain that information.

The company was then served with a warrant to turn over its private SSL key. Levison opted in early August to shut down Lavabit's service, saying he could no longer guarantee the privacy of users.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com. Follow me on Twitter: @jeremy_kirk

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags CriminalsecurityLavabitlegalencryptionElectronic Frontier Foundation

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?