That much is clear from Levison's account in The Guardian, where he spoke out for the first time about many aspects of his legal nightmare. Suddenly confronted with FBI agents knocking at his door, Levison was compelled to answer coercive demands made under the cover of secrecy, denied sufficient time to find legal counsel, and forced to appear alone, more than a thousand miles from home, in a secret legal proceeding. He was also barred from soliciting assistance from anyone other than a lawyer as he tried to secure and fund his defense. In his own words:
My legal saga started last summer with a knock at the door, behind which stood two federal agents ready to to serve me with a court order requiring the installation of surveillance equipment on my company's network .... I had no choice but to consent to the installation of their device, which would hand the US government access to all of the messages—to and from all of my customers—as they travelled between their email accounts other providers on the Internet. But that wasn't enough. The federal agents then claimed that their court order required me to surrender my company's private encryption keys, and I balked. What they said they needed were customer passwords ... Bothered by what the agents were saying, I informed them that I would first need to read the order they had just delivered—and then consult with an attorney.
That's how it should have worked. Here how the situation actually unfolded:
In the first two weeks, I was served legal papers a total of seven times and was in contact with the FBI every other day. (This was the period a prosecutor would later characterize as my "period of silence".) It took a week for me to identify an attorney who could adequately represent me, given the complex technological and legal issues involvedand we were in contact for less than a day when agents served me with a summons ordering me to appear in a Virginia courtroom, over 1,000 miles from my home. Two days later, I was served the first subpoena for the encryption keys.
With such short notice, my first attorney was unable to appear alongside me in court. Because the whole case was under seal, I couldn't even admit to anyone who wasn't an attorney that I needed a lawyer, let alone why. In the days before my appearance, I would spend hours repeating the facts of the case to a dozen attorneys, as I sought someone else that was qualified to represent me. I also discovered that as a third party in a federal criminal indictment, I had no right to counsel. After all, only my property was in jeopardy—not my liberty.
Let's reflect for a moment on the story so far. For 10 years this man built an email business that guaranteed customers a private, encrypted way to communicate. Out of nowhere, federal agents knocked on his door asking, in essence, that he violate a promise he made to his customers and that he destroy the whole value proposition of his enterprise. Setting aside whatever the law happens to be, it seems clear that a just system would afford a man in this situation adequate legal counsel and time to understand and respond to what was happening.