The fallout of NSA surveillance revelations continues to produce the closings of many services and outlets in the name of privacy. After the closure of encrypted email service provider Lavabit and Silent Circle’s shuttering of its Silent Mail product, another valuable tool has decided to call it quits.
Pamela Jones, the editor of Groklaw, posted a long and heartfelt goodbye today. For years, Groklaw has been a valuable reference on legal and technology issues, as NPR aptly explains.
Groklaw began in the spring of 2003, and grew in popularity when Jones, a tech-savvy paralegal living in New York, provided comprehensive analysis and research of the legal challenges that threatened the open-source Linux operating system.
For the next decade, Groklaw analyzed the cases that shaped the path of free and open-source software and related issues. Operating under the motto “When you want to know more,” it became a gathering point for an international crowd of people interested in technology, in legal matters, and (full disclosure) for journalists, as well.
Jones explains that Groklaw could not exist without email. And as she recounted a burglary to which she once fell victim, she described what it felt like to have a stranger paw through all her possessions, and how violating an experience it was – so much so that she could not continue to live there.
“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,” Jones wrote.
In her final post at Groklaw, Jones writes:
I hope that makes it clear why I can’t continue. There is now no shield from forced exposure. Nothing in that parenthetical thought list is terrorism-related, but no one can feel protected enough from forced exposure any more to say anything the least bit like that to anyone in an email, particularly from the US out or to the US in, but really anywhere. You don’t expect a stranger to read your private communications to a friend. And once you know they can, what is there to say? Constricted and distracted. That’s it exactly. That’s how I feel.
So. There we are. The foundation of Groklaw is over. I can’t do Groklaw without your input. I was never exaggerating about that when we won awards. It really was a collaborative effort, and there is now no private way, evidently, to collaborate.
I’m really sorry that it’s so. I loved doing Groklaw, and I believe we really made a significant contribution. But even that turns out to be less than we thought, or less than I hoped for, anyway. My hope was always to show you that there is beauty and safety in the rule of law, that civilization actually depends on it. How quaint.
If you have to stay on the Internet, my research indicates that the short term safety from surveillance, to the degree that is even possible, is to use a service like Kolab for email, which is located in Switzerland, and hence is under different laws than the US, laws which attempt to afford more privacy to citizens. I have now gotten for myself an email there, p.jones at mykolab.com in case anyone wishes to contact me over something really important and feels squeamish about writing to an email address on a server in the US. But both emails still work. It’s your choice.
My personal decision is to get off of the Internet to the degree it’s possible. I’m just an ordinary person. But I really know, after all my research and some serious thinking things through, that I can’t stay online personally without losing my humanness, now that I know that ensuring privacy online is impossible. I find myself unable to write. I’ve always been a private person. That’s why I never wanted to be a celebrity and why I fought hard to maintain both my privacy and yours.
Oddly, if everyone did that, leap off the Internet, the world’s economy would collapse, I suppose. I can’t really hope for that. But for me, the Internet is over.
So this is the last Groklaw article. I won’t turn on comments. Thank you for all you’ve done. I will never forget you and our work together. I hope you’ll remember me too. I’m sorry I can’t overcome these feelings, but I yam what I yam, and I tried, but I can’t.
The impact of Edward Snowden’s leaks have been far reaching in a multitude of ways. It’s a positive thing that the country is now having open, albeit disorderly, debate about the US government’s surveillance policies. But I wonder if anyone ever imagined that once the information was out in the open the way it is today, one such impact would be that so many would write their own conclusions in this world and drop offline entirely. You often hear the moniker “information wants to be free,” but what good is information when it’s no longer available at all?
Jones makes such poignant points in her post. She made me realize that many of us probably have changed our behaviors since the NSA revelations, as well as in response to the way journalists have been treated during this administration. How many of you think twice about emailing someone, regardless of how innocent and mundane the content may be? How many have changed your behavior? The reality is that the current environment has changed the way many of us work and communicate. Information no longer flows freely for too many.
The closure of Groklaw is the loss of a valuable resource of information. Sadly, I expect that we’ve only just seen the beginning with these latest shutdowns. I don’t know how we restore trust again in this chilled environment, but I hope that it can happen one day.