Four tech legal cases to watch in 2014

Good writeup on these 4 legal challenges, moving forward in 2014:

NSA spying litigation:

The Snowden leaks made public a great deal of information about government surveillance, both at home and abroad. Arguably, the most stunning and controversial program was the first that was revealed: the dragnet collection of every phone number called. That bulk data collection program inspired at least two lawsuits against the government and changed the nature of a third case.

The two lawsuits have had starkly different results; with both now sure to rise to appeals courts, it seems likely that the issue will ultimately reach the US Supreme Court. Certainly, the court as currently composed hasn’t been shy about weighing in on the most controversial and politically charged issues in recent years.


2014 could prove to be a pivotal year for one of the United States’ most bizarre criminal suspects, Kim Dotcom. In July 2014, the German-born Dotcom is finally set to have his extradition hearing, which will decide whether he will be forced to decamp from New Zealand to the US to face criminal charges of copyright infringement. Further, he’s awaiting a decision from the Supreme Court of New Zealand to determine whether he should be allowed to have all the evidence that American authorities gathered against him. And to top it off, he’s suing the New Zealand government for millions for illegal surveillance and search, and those allegations will progress in 2014 as well.

The Silk Road:

2014 could also see the conclusion of the saga of Ross Ulbricht, the 29-year-old Texan accused of being the mastermind behind the notorious Silk Road site. If he doesn’t reach some kind of agreement with the government, Ulbricht’s case will head to trial next year.

Here’s a link to the Silk Road Wikipedia page.


Just days after it was revealed that NSA leaker Edward Snowden had been using a secure e-mail service called Lavabit, it abruptly shut down. The service’s founder, Ladar Levison, made cryptic statements about how he had been forced to abandon the company he’d put ten years of hard work into, lest he become complicit in “crimes against the American people.”

Levison built e-mail “by geeks, for geeks”—and then turned off 410,000 accounts. Since then, much of the story has been made public. The FBI showed up at Levison’s door seeking to tap into his e-mail service to pursue a target, widely believed to be Snowden. Because of the way Lavabit was constructed, there was no way to tap into the e-mail of one particular Lavabit user. Once they learned that, federal agents demanded Lavabit’s private SSL key, which would effectively give them the “keys to the kingdom”—the ability to monitor every Lavabit user, in real time.

While Levison has said he’s always been willing to help law enforcement go after their specific target, he balked at handing over the private key. Once he was slapped with an order to hand over the key or pay $5,000 per day, he shut down the service, deleting the e-mails belonging to about 400,000 users, including his own.

Now, Levison is appealing the order at the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. It’s impossible to miss the fact that Levison’s appeal treads over some of the same grounds that the NSA litigation rests on, because the FBI agents are arguing that what they want to install on his e-mail service is basically a “pen register.” Thus, their legal grounds are similar to the justification for widespread NSA spying—the “metadata” simply isn’t constitutionally protected. Lavabit is arguing that the “pen register” statute can’t possibly be broad enough to justify the handover of private SSL keys, which would enable the collection of private data on hundreds of thousands of users.