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US vs. Lavabit

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The Police State Wants What The Police State Wants

By William Boardman  -- Reader Supported News 

U.S. enforces free speech. by []

[Note: Since the lifting of the federal court gag order on October 2, Ladar Levison and his company, Lavabit, have been getting some media attention (including a somewhat snide and incomplete story on page one of the New York Times).  What follows in an effort to reconstruct at least the outline of a personal nightmare inflicted by our government on a small business owner who had done no wrong, even in the government's eyes -- at least until he started taking his constitutional rights seriously.]  

The Fourth Amendment of the U. S. Constitution is anti-police-state

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."  [emphasis added]

The founding document of the United States is inherently suspicious of a government's willingness to abuse its powers, a suspicion rooted in centuries of tyranny around the world. Even the U.S. government, as well as state and local governments, have abused their powers from time to time since the country's beginning. The drift toward an American police state intensified under the guise of anti-Communism, but that was mostly a convenient cover for state intrusion into people's lives. The Soviet Union collapsed, but the nascent American police state kept growing. The Patriot Act of 2001, a massive assault on personal and political liberty, was largely written before 9/11 and passed, largely unexamined, in the hysterical atmosphere and raw panic of that over-hyped "new Pearl Harbor." 

Now we have a police state apparatus of almost unimagined dimension, most of which is kept secret and remains unknown, despite the efforts of a few reporters and whistle blower, who tell the truth at their personal peril. 

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The "American police state" is likely an abstraction in the minds of many people, and as long as they remain unknowing and passive, it's likely to leave them alone. But even law-abiding innocence is not a sure protection of a person's right to be secure.  And when the police state comes after you in one of its hydra-headed forms, the assault can be devastating. 

For starters, the state won't always tell you when it begins 


The intrusion of the police state into your life can shatter your world even before you realize it's begun. Fight it, or surrender to it, the cost is huge. Recovery may be possible, eventually, if it's ever allowed, but it will be hard, and it will take time. 

In May 2013, Ladar Levison was 32 when the police state first came after him. The dreaded "knock on the door" was actually only an FBI business card on his door at home. And Levison's initial interactions with the FBI were reportedly mild and civil, at first by email and later in person. The FBI was interested in Levision because he owned and operated a secure email service called Lavabit. From the FBI point of view, Lavabit was too secure, because the NSA and the rest of the security state couldn't get into it.    

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Right out of college, Levison had started Lavabit as a sole proprietorship in April 2004 (the same month Google launched Gmail at a much greater scale). Having grown up in San Francisco, Levison studied computer science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he still lives. While working on his start-up, he supported himself mostly with internet security projects for financial services. He also worked as a consultant on website development for clients such as Dr Pepper, Nokia, and Adidas. 

What Lavabit was selling was secure email, much more secure than anything Google, Microsoft, or most other email providers were offering.  The demand was not that great at first.  It took six years for Lavabit to gather enough paying subscribers to allow Levison to devote himself to the business fulltime in 2010. Even when the FBI became interested in Lavabit in May 2013, it was still a small company, with two employees and about 400,000 subscribers. But one of those subscribers was another American about Levison's age, 30-year old Edward Snowden, the whistleblower whose leaked documents have added so much to our understanding of the dimensions  and activities of the American police state. Snowden opened his Email address removed email account in 2010.      

Political repression may not be the government's overt intent, but it works  

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Vermonter living in Woodstock: elected to five terms (served 20 years) as side judge (sitting in Superior, Family, and Small Claims Courts); public radio producer, "The Panther Program" -- nationally distributed, three albums (at CD Baby), some (more...)

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