Groklaw, an award-winning legal news and analysis website, shut down today, saying there is “no way” to continue running without using secure e-mail, and the threat of NSA spying was simply too great.
In the site’s final article this morning, entitled “Forced Exposure,” founder Pamela Jones wrote, “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.”
Jones’ article is intensely personal, a heartfelt diatribe of her own experiences with breaches in privacy, likening NSA surveillance to when a burglar broke into her New York City apartment, rifling through her private belongings. She couldn’t live there anymore, and she can’t run Groklaw anymore.
Like the closing of Lavabit, which Jones mentions, this abrupt shutdown is another shocking domino to fall in the ongoing saga of encrypted e-mail in the wake of Edward Snowden revealing the NSA’s PRISM program. There is no evidence to suggest Groklaw was under direct pressure from the government, so Jones’ decision was yet another preemptive one.
The U.K. charity Privacy International posted a statement on Twitter about the closure: “The closing of Groklaw demonstrates how central the right to privacy is to free expression. The mere threat of surveillance is enough to [make people] self-censor.”
A developer on the Tor project—whose Tor Mail service was shut down by the NSA in August—commented with their own tweet, saying, “This is exactly how it begins—chilling effects accumulate until the few who still speak out are easy targets.”
Jones founded Groklaw in May 2003, winning frequent awards for blogging over the past decade, covering cases like technology company SCO’s patent infringement, and more recently the patent wars between Apple and Samsung. Groklaw often relied on e-mail tips from anonymous sources, a key motivation behind her decision.
As far as encrypted e-mail services, Jones recommends Kolab, based in Switzerland, where she herself now has an account because, she says, foreign laws afford more privacy.
“There is now no shield from forced exposure,” Jones wrote. “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.”
Near the end of her farewell article, Jones simply said, “For me, the Internet is over.”