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

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.