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Forced Exposure: Online Privacy Concerns Prompt Shutdown of Groklaw

Forced Exposure: Online Privacy Concerns Prompt Shutdown of Groklaw

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 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.


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We all have a choice. Go meekly into the night, and accept it. Or fight it … although I’m not sure what path that would take.

    MarkS in reply to walls. | August 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    The French had a pretty good idea back in 1789!

    Shane in reply to walls. | August 20, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    I say, email and email so more. Create terabytes and terabytes of information from just me. Make the cost and effectiveness of searching gathering and storing information, prohibitive. Flood the world with information and watch the monitors be swept away under the tsunami. If the monitors want to know everything about me then fine know absolutely EVERYTHING. The more people like me the more information the more intractable the problem for the monitors becomes.

    The government is notoriously bad about which things are important which aren’t. Let them keep it all, if they can.

It seems like there is a massive market opportunity here for someone to invent some sort of peer-to-peer messaging platform with strong encryption.

    snopercod in reply to Paul. | August 20, 2013 at 6:05 pm

    I think that’s called “Hushmail”.

      Hushmail isn’t peer-to-peer is it? If not, it’s only a matter of time before Uncle Sam comes knocking. That’s kinduv the point of this article… various bloggers and providers of other ‘secure’ messaging platforms are getting harassed out of the game.

      p.s. it is a Canadian company, so it has that going for it. But I would say it’s just a matter of time before the long, corrupt arm of the US system reaches up there just like they did to Kim Dotcom in New Zealand.

    Check out Bitmessage.
    It’s peer to peer and encrypted. I don’t vouch for its quality. I haven’t made any particular use of it myself because i don’t know anyone else who has any interest in using it. But if anyone wants to send me a test message, just to see, use address BM-GtdBAF44xwok4opMhEshSph9XVkgE26B

    (And pretend I didn’t just give that address to the NSA …)

In the short term I see the shutdown of these sites as a good thing because they are the proverbial trout up against the side of the head of the uninformed person. Right after 9-11 all U.S security services turned inward with gusto. This was obvious from publications from DHS and state law enforcement but few noticed and there was not much they could do. I suppose the good news is Snowden is not through talking. I see tweets comparing inside the US news coverage to world news coverage of the same events, night and day different, so people are beginning to notice what was obvious back when you could watch live events raw off the satellites.

    jnials in reply to OldNuc. | August 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    This is a bad thing. PJ was exactly the sort of person we wanted engaged in the process. Intelligent, questing, and the only axe she had to grind was that the system and the law (in this case patents and copyright) were being misused to grind down intellectual freedom. Her only requirement all along was she wanted to remain private and anonymous.

    And now she doesn’t feel safe from the spying of her own government any more. It’s sad.

      Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to jnials. | August 21, 2013 at 5:31 pm

      But it was always true from the start
      that there is ZERO privacy on the net.

I certainly understand. This is not something anyone can fight. The government is not going to change, its simply going to keep doing what it is doing, namely intercepting all your private communications, and promptly turn it around and using it against you. There’s not going to be any reform, look at the IRS, they continue to target and harass the Presidents political opponents even with the glaring eye of a congressional oversight committee. That is a brazen declaration of lawlessness. this is nothing but RICO and it goes straight to the top.

    MarkS in reply to imfine. | August 20, 2013 at 5:53 pm

    You’re right! Those in government will gleefully continue what they are doing because they know there is no consequence for their actions.

      arnonerik in reply to MarkS. | August 20, 2013 at 11:26 pm

      There is a consequence. I have been proud of our government and the constraints in our Constitution. Now I am disillusioned with our leaders (?) blatant lawlessness and over-reach. The Republic is in as much peril from our internal “security” efforts and our entrenched politicians as it is from our foreign enemies.
      I know I am not alone. Many who have been asleep are now awake.

I R A Darth Aggie | August 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm

The only solution is to encrypt your email.

The only problem is that encrypting your email is a royal pain the wahzoo. You have to encrypt it. You have to exchange public keys in some manner. Then you have to decrypt the message before you can read it.

Maybe this will spur more movement in that direction?

    I R A Darth Aggie in reply to I R A Darth Aggie. | August 20, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    Of course, that will also serve as prima facia evidence of criminal behavour, at least according to the government.

    This is the same government that forbade exporting any cryptographic software back in the 90s, and deemed it to be a form of “munition”. The same government also gave its blessing to exporting printed copies of the software, as apparently our enemies didn’t have access to keyboards and wouldn’t be able to key in the code in a timely fashion. *face palm*

    And that was when you could do RSA encryption with 4 lines of perl code.

    Even with encryption an enemy government has knowledge of who is talking to who (metadata). And there’s no practical way to convince everybody to start anonymizing their path through something like Tor (which is PJs problem in this new golden age of surveillance).

    Not A Member of Any Organized Political in reply to I R A Darth Aggie. | August 21, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    “We are all Spys today.”

    “Ich Bien Spy!”

I don’t know, when I worked for the govt in the USAF the stories I heard ans saw about govt were like “we were lucky to have won WWII” as so many snafu’s happen so regularly among govt entities that we only won by chance.

If they have any of my emails I wish them luck trying to figure out how to black mail me.

    Uncle Samuel in reply to SweetAndy. | August 20, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    It’s not blackmail you, but worse if you dissent… they will bully, harass, sue, deny you a voice, a job, invade your home, threaten to rape your daughters….Obama and his leftist bullies have done all this and more, using every agency of government.

    They are lawless, yet use the law and powers of government against others.

    I utterly despise them.

    Pamela Jones is right: “there is beauty and safety in the rule of law, that civilization actually depends on it.”

    They are destroying civilization with their lawlessness.

The NSA sound like the terrorists they are supposedly trying to stop (there, that should get me some attention!) – they terrorize people from talking and sharing information, to hiding at home in fear.

Sigh – I wonder how many people at the NSA are disgusted by what they hear being said about their organization.

“And if my thought-dreams could be seen
They’d probably put my head in a guillotine
But it’s alright, Ma, it’s life, and life only.”
Bob Dylan

When the govt starts putting those electrodes into your temples, that’s when you’ll really have to worry.

Even in his own house a modest person should not go around naked, or even slovenly.

Distributed encryption.

If your correspondence is of such concern to you for privacy, then encrypt it and demand that any email coming to you be also encrypted.

There are other solutions. The PROBLEM is that we have relied on point sources for the service and this allows tampering and outright extortion on the part of government as these point sources are unable legally to deny the government access.

Encryption at the source and requirement that all correspondents also encrypt nips the governments easy access in the bud.

If you don’t want something you said repeated to someone else, dont’ say it. if you don’t want something you wrote read by the wrong people, don’t write it.

This was true a thousand years ago. And it is true today.

‘The internet changed everything’ is BS – it didn’t change human nature.

This fight’s not over!

If you look at the idiots who thought seeing the Guardian destroy two hard drives (because they contained Snowden’s secrets) … shows ya why Snowden was hired by idiots “up above him” who don’t even know how to tie shoe laces.

But they have badges. And, they thought they’d “really show the word “something or other.”

9 HOURS, folks. They held Glenn Greenwald’s boyfriend for 9 hours. While he was in this airport area … so grey it’s not British. And, it’s where you can be arrested … without access to a judge. OR THE LEGALITIES governments dress themselves up in.

You know, it’s like the Queen, herself, was standing there. And, some punk with a badge walks over. Rips the crown off her head. And, her pearls off her neck …

And, lives to tell about it. Creates a “mini news feed” for people to watch, as well.

And, what you don’t know?

Where this “secret sauce” can turn up … again.

Monty Python couldn’t write a funnier story.

What’s in those secrets that have twisted the underpants of so many “higher ups” … I just don’t know.

But these “hard drives?” How, about by now there’s a million copies?

Lewis Black pointed this out. He talked about how things were in the 1950’s. Both parties were filled with drunks. So drunks were “making da’ laws.” Today? It’s not the alcohol. It’s just that the democrats are dumb. And, the republicans are stupid.

Stupid is comedy gold.

Groklaw is a real loss. During the height of the SCO lawsuits I read Groklaw almost every day. I drifted away eventually (now I read Legal Insurrection every day!). But I still have nothing but respect for the amazing work Groklaw did.

It will be missed.

Miss me yet?

And this is only starting now, folks!!
You have no idea what’s coming to you.

“To be, or not to be. Whether it is nobler ‘o the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them.”

I am a lawyer. I do not get ulcers, I give them. If we want our government to behave, we have to make it do so. It really is up to us.

About a software app, this is the heart of the column “. . . there is beauty and safety in the rule of law, that civilization actually depends on it. How quaint.”

Writing a good law is difficult enough, but working with a deconstructed language must produce terrible laws, and when that happens, even a “legal insurrection” becomes an impossibility. How far along are we?

Our laws are no longer written to proscribe boundaries of behavior and conduct; they are now “crafted” and interpreted to describe the conditions (rather than the behavior) under which virtually any behavior and conduct are permissible and then almost always contain provisions exempting certain groups and classes of individuals from any constraint. They are hollow and our civilization is being hollowed out accordingly. One needs only to look at the Middle East to see the consequences of terrible laws, or an office in Cincinnati, or a clinic in Philadelphia, or Groklaw.

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Going Galt is the answer? Can’t win a war with that!

Connivin Caniff | August 21, 2013 at 12:36 pm

How many times have you heard:”Hey, I don’t have anything to hide, so what’s to worry?” Now you see the effect. Who now would not tread slowly before communicating information about government misdeeds or corruption to a news source? Worry about a that, a society of people who are not only afraid to speak out, but are also afraid to be confidential sources.

This all seems like wild overreaction.

Privacy of e-mails is not a fundamental American value. “Freedom of speech” does not mean freedom of secret communication. “Speech” in the Revolutionary era meant primarily public speech. Our revolutionary ancestors were prodigious letter writers, but they didn’t put anything about protection of the privacy of their letters in the Bill of Rights. Their homes? Yes. Their persons? Yes. Their letters? No. Certainly in my case such nonchalance is justified. My mail is about as interesting as a laundry list.

“How many of you think twice about emailing someone, regardless of how innocent and mundane the content may be?”

Not me. If some government drone wants to be bored to tears reading my innocent and mundane e-mails, it’s of no consequence to me.

I can imagine some instances, such as discussions of business strategies, which one might want to keep from the knowledge of competitors, but that sort of thing is hardly routine for the great majority.

“The reality is that the current environment has changed the way many of us work and communicate.”

That may be, though it’s not terribly obvious how. Anything so super-duper-extra secret should never have appeared in an e-mail in ANY environment.

“Information no longer flows freely for too many.”

Au contraire, it is flowing too freely. But I don’t see that as a problem.

Pamela Jones surely has some weird notions.

“I can’t stay online personally without losing my humanness, now that I know that ensuring privacy online is impossible.”

This seems like a peculiarly trivial conception of what “humanness” is.

“I find myself unable to write. I’ve always been a private person.”

So have I. But my idea of “private” doesn’t include e-mail of any sort – either the old type which some imagined was confidential, or the new Obama type which obviously isn’t.

There are certainly some serious problems with the Orwell Memorial Universal Surveillance State, but privacy of our tedious e-mail secrets is probably not prominent among them.