Encryption Protects Free Speech: Ladar Levison on Online Freedom, Net Neutrality, and Cryptography


“If we are going to continue to preserve our right to free speech in the electronic age, then we need to use tools like encryption,” says Ladar Levison, founder of the Lavabit, the encyrpted email service used by Edward Snowden prior to the NSA leaks.

Levison shut down Lavabit after the FBI asked for access to all of his users data during what many suspect was a hunt for Snowden. He talked about that decision in an interview with Reason TV last year.

Reason TV’s Zach Weissmueller sat down with Levison at Freedom Fest in Las Vegas this July to discuss the latest developments in the Dark Mail Alliance, a collaborative efforts by some of the world’s top cryptographers to create a user-friendly email service that encrypts data on the user devices themselves, rather than over a server.

As Levison describes it, this technical fix would prevent the government from doing what it tried to do to him when it asked that he divert all traffic onto their servers, because the diverted traffic would already be encrypted at the device level and hence already unreadable by a third party by the time it reached any server.

Levison also disussed the recent Congressional hearing on encryption, the state of free speech on the internet, his alternative to FCC enforcement of neutrality, and how his outlook has changed since the government tried to spy on his users.

“I find myself becoming more radicalized,” says Levison. “I love this country. But what I despise is the job our government is doing. I’ve come to hate the government we have.”

Approximately 10 minutes. Produced by Zach Weissmueller. Shot by Todd Krainin, Paul Detrick, and Meredith Bragg. Music is “Slow Grind” by Digital Sin.