Startup Empeopled jumps to Lavabit's aid against the US govt

Startup Empeopled jumps to Lavabit's aid against the US govt

Summary: A single startup is fighting to have its voice heard alongside Lavabit in a legal case aimed at defending the Fourth Amendment from the US government itself.


Chicago-based startup Empeopled is urging to have its voice heard in the Lavabit v. the United States case currently before the US Court of Appeals.

Lavabit found itself before the courts, ordered to hand over SSL keys that would have enabled the US government to read the email of one of its customers, presumably Edward Snowden. Having failed to do so, and shutting down its business instead, Lavabit founder Ladar Levison raised $101,545 to fund an appeals process.

Although not implicated in the court case, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, American Civil Liberties Union, and Empeopled have filed an amicus curiae brief in Lavabit's support.

These briefing documents were filed on October 25 last year, and, at the beginning of December, the case was scheduled for an oral argument between representatives of the US and Lavabit.

However, Empeopled also wants be further involved. It has filed a motion to participate in the oral argument, which has been set for January 28. Should the motion be passed, Empeopled would have five minutes to present the argument it presented in its filed amicus curiae brief (PDF).

It is the only party urging for its voice to be heard at this point, and the only startup getting involved in the legal case.

While Lavabit is arguing for the Fourth Amendment to be upheld — which prevents unreasonable searches and seizures without probable cause and the presence of a sanctioned warrant — Empeopled has taken a different approach with its brief.

Empeopled argues that the principles of the First Amendment — statutes relating to the protection of freedom of speech, including anonymity — would be violated if the US government can freely take companies' SSL keys. It also argues that the Fourteenth Amendment — which it is using to argue the right to political privacy — enables anonymous freedom of speech, and that this too would be violated should companies' users not be afforded the protection of SSL.

Should the case not go in Lavabit's favour, Levison said that he may take the fight to the Supreme Court. Doing so, however, will require another round of fundraising to cover the additional legal costs of such an action.

Topics: Legal, Privacy, Security, Start-Ups

Michael Lee

About Michael Lee

A Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee covers a gamut of news in the technology space including information security, state Government initiatives, and local startups.

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  • Lavabit will lose

    I would love to present at the Lavabit case - against them.
    How many authors are going to ignore the fact Levison was ALREADY PROVIDING THE REQUESTED INFORMATION on a daily basis, manually? He was asked to implement a realtime wiretap, at which point he asked for $2000, and then another $1500 if the tap went past 60 days. That's far in excess of reimbursement for information that his system handled in clear text.

    The case isn't about spying, 1st amendment or 4th amendment rights, it's about whether or not you can fleece the government and the taxpayer when they need info 'right now'. There are no FISA courts, NSA letters or anything else procedurally fishy about this case. Everything is in order via the normal court system. All we had we a smart FBI agent who knew it was trivial to get the data in realtime, and wasn't about to get dragged over the coals by some hack.