The owner of an encrypted email service used by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden said he has been threatened with criminal charges for refusing to comply with a secret surveillance order to turn over information about his customers, NBC News is reporting. "I could be arrested for this action," Ladar Levison told NBC News about his decision to shut down his company, Lavabit, in protest over a secret court order he had received from a federal court that is overseeing the investigation into Snowden. Levison said he is barred by federal law from elaborating on the order or any of his communications with federal prosecutors. But a source familiar with the matter told NBC News that James Trump, a senior litigation counsel in the U.S. attorney's office in Alexandria, Va., sent an email
to Levison's lawyer last Thursday, the day Lavabit was shuttered, stating that Levison's lawyer last Thursday, the day Lavabit was shuttered, stating that Levison may have "violated the court order," a statement that was interpreted as a possible threat to charge Levison with contempt of court. CNBC reports: "Because the government has barred Lavabit from disclosing the nature of its demands, we still don't know what information the government is seeking it," said said Ben Wizner, a national security lawyer for the ACLU. "It's hard to have a debate about the reasonableness of the government's actions, or of Lavabit's response, for that matter, when we don't know what we are debating." Levison said he started Lavabit 10 years ago to capitalize on public concerns about the Patriot Act, offering customers a paid service, between $8 and $16 a year, that would encrypt their emails in ways that would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for law enforcement agents to decipher. He said that until he shut down, his small company was a generating about $100, 000 in revenue annually, with about 10,000 users paying for the encryption service. One who appears to have been a customer was Snowden. When the ex-NSA contractor invited human rights groups to a press conference at the Moscow airport on July 11, his message was communicated from a Lavabit.com email address: edsnowden @lavabit.com. Snowden himself told Greenwald of the Guardian last week that he found Levison's decision to close rather than provide information to the government "inspiring" and asked why other larger companies such as Google "aren't fighting for our interest the same way small businesses are." Levison stressed that he has complied with "upwards of two dozen court orders" for information in the past that were targeted at "specific users"and that "I never had a problem with that." Bit without disclosing details, he suggested that the order he received
more recently was markedly different, requiring him to cooperate in broadly based surveillance that would scoop up information about all the users of his service.