Groklaw, an award-winning and highly respected legal site dealing mainly in software law, is shutting down due to fears of government spying. Specifically, the site’s editor Pam Jones has determined that she can’t stand the idea of the government reading emails, and doesn’t see how the site can go on.
Earlier this month, email provider Lavabit (which was reportedly used by Edward Snowden), shut down as its owner said he was killing it to avoid becoming “complicit in crimes against the American people.”
Jones began her own explanation by saying, “The owner of Lavabit tells us that he’s stopped using email and if we knew what he knew, we’d stop too. “There is no way to do Groklaw without email. Therein lies the conundrum.”
Lavabit owner Ladar Levison wrote in a letter to users:
I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations. I wish that I could legally share with you the events that led to my decision. I cannot. I feel you deserve to know what’s going on–the first amendment is supposed to guarantee me the freedom to speak out in situations like this. Unfortunately, Congress has passed laws that say otherwise. As things currently stand, I cannot share my experiences over the last six weeks, even though I have twice made the appropriate requests.
What’s going to happen now? We’ve already started preparing the paperwork needed to continue to fight for the Constitution in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. A favorable decision would allow me resurrect Lavabit as an American company.
This experience has taught me one very important lesson: without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.
So, Jones is taking his advice and not trusting its private data to the government.
“The conclusion I’ve reached is that there is no way to continue doing Groklaw, not long term, which is incredibly sad,” she writes. “But it’s good to be realistic. And the simple truth is, no matter how good the motives might be for collecting and screening everything we say to one another, and no matter how ‘clean’ we all are ourselves from the standpoint of the screeners, I don’t know how to function in such an atmosphere. I don’t know how to do Groklaw like this.”
Virtual Underwear Touching
She then likens the situation to a time when she moved to New York City and had her apartment burglarized.
“I wasn’t there when it happened, so I wasn’t hurt in any way physically,” she says. “And I didn’t then own much of any worth, so only a few things were taken. But everything had been pawed through and thrown about. I can’t tell how deeply disturbing it is to know that someone, some stranger, has gone through and touched all your underwear, looked at all your photographs of your family, and taken some small piece of jewelry that’s been in your family for generations.”
“If it’s ever happened to you, you know I couldn’t live there any more, not one night more,” she continues. “It turned out, by the way, according to my neighbors, that it was almost certainly the janitor’s son, which stunned me at the time but didn’t seem to surprise any of my more-seasoned neighbors. The police just told me not to expect to get anything back. I felt assaulted. The underwear was perfectly normal underwear. Nothing kinky or shameful, but it was the idea of them being touched by someone I didn’t know or want touching them. I threw them away, unused ever again.”
“I feel like that now, knowing that persons I don’t know can paw through all my thoughts and hopes and plans in my emails with you,” she says. “They tell us that if you send or receive an email from outside the US, it will be read. If it’s encrypted, they keep it for five years, presumably in the hopes of tech advancing to be able to decrypt it against your will and without your knowledge. Groklaw has readers all over the world.”
While she provides many more paragraphs of explanation, that’s essentially the size of it.
Getting Off The Internet
Jones says she is making the decision to get off the Internet (to the degree it’s possible). It’s unclear what exactly that means. It’s possible, because there are still plenty of people out there that don’t have access to the Internet.
“Oddly, if everyone did that, leap off the Internet, the world’s economy would collapse, I suppose,” she says. “I can’t really hope for that. But for me, the Internet is over.”
She says that this was the last Groklaw article, and that she wouldn’t even turn on comments. I’m thinking leaving comments on might not have been a bad thing, to at least promote open dialogue about the situation, but I’m sure that will happen in plenty of other places.
We’ve reached out to Jones for further comment, and will update if we get a response (though frankly, we don’t really expect to based on her comments).
It’s going to be interesting to see if other prominent websites follow suit.
For now, Groklaw remains online. Presumably, Jones at least wants to give users a chance to read her message. We’ll see how long the site remains functional.