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If you’ve read about technology on the web over the past decade, chances are you’ve stumbled across Groklaw, a site dedicated to explaining complex legal news that intersects with tech.
Launched in 2003 by Pamela Jones, an open source advocate and former paralegal, the site embodied the idealism of the early blogging era, with a focus on clarity, collaboration, and journalistic integrity.
Today, Jones announced that the site is shutting down in response to the increasingly expansive NSA spying efforts, first revealed by leaked documents from former analyst Edward Snowden. Her farewell post is worth a read even if you’re unfamiliar with Groklaw, because it shows just how much the mere idea of surveillance can make you feel less than human.
Jones starts off by referring to comments from Ladar Levison, founder of secure email service Lavabit, which Snowden used for secure communications. Levison recently had to shut down his service and has given up on email entirely. That situation clearly gave Jones pause.
“What to do? I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure it out,” Jones wrote. “And the conclusion I’ve reached is that there is no way to continue doing Groklaw, not long term, which is incredibly sad. 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 standpont of the screeners, I don’t know how to function in such an atmosphere. I don’t know how to do Groklaw like this.”
Even as Groklaw became a go-to source for legal news, Jones cherished her privacy. So the idea that the NSA can now read and save our emails must seem especially terrifying to her. Even more disheartening, it sounds like the NSA spying news has even led Jones to lose faith in the rule of law:
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.
Looking ahead, Jones says she’ll “get off the Internet to the degree it’s possible.” She’s started a new secure email account at the Swiss site Kolab, which for now should be free of the NSA’s grasp.