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Founder of Lavabit email service linked to Snowden loses contempt of court appeal

Lavabit founder Ladar Levison has lost an appeal against a contempt of court ruling in the US for refusing to comply with an FBI order to hand over encryption keys.

The secure email service is thought to have been used by US whistleblower Edward Snowden and founder Levison pulled the plug on it when American security services began requesting access in the wake of the NSA revelations last year.

While he did eventually comply with an FBI order to divulge encryption keys, Levison was found in contempt after initially delivering them on paper in print too small to read.

Speaking to news website Ars Technica, Levison said he was not yet sure of his next move: “I haven’t read the court’s opinion, nor sought advice from lawyers on any possible legal strategy, so that is still pending,” he said.

Levison’s lawyer said he was disappointed with the ruling and pointed out that the court did not rule the government’s actions against Levison and Lavabit were legal.

In October last year, court papers lodged by Levison claimed that authorities tried to stop him from telling customers or business partners that data had been handed over, and he has previously described the authorities’ actions as “game over” for his email service, which worked on the basis that all communication was secure. Lavabit had 410,000 registered users when Levison took the decision to shut it down.

In an interview last year, Levison said restrictions placed on him by US authorities meant there was information he could not even share with his lawyer, and he urged people to assume that any electronic communication they engage in is being monitored.