For ten years Pamela Jones has run Groklaw, a site collecting, discussing, and explaining legal developments of interest to the open-source software community. Her efforts have, justifiably, won many awards.
She's done now.
Running a blog long-term can be exhausting, irritating, and sometimes discouraging. Creative efforts have arcs, with a beginning and an end. If Jones were closing up shop because she's had enough and has accomplished what she set out to do, I would be sorry to see her go, but it would be the kind of sorry you feel when you finish a good book.
That's not why she's stopping.
Pamela Jones is ending Groklaw because she can't trust her government. She's ending it because, in the post-9/11 era, there's no viable and reliable way to assure that our email won't be read by the state — because she can't confidently communicate privately with her readers and tipsters and subjects and friends and family.
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.
In making this choice, Jones echoes the words of Lavar Levison, who shut down his encrypted email service Lavabit. Levison said he was doing so rather than "become complicit in crimes against the American people":
“I’m taking a break from email,” said Levison. “If you knew what I know about email, you might not use it either.”
Lavabit was joined by encryption provider Silent Circle:
“We’ve been thinking about this for some time, whether it was a good idea at all. Yesterday, another secure email provider, Lavabit, shut down their system lest they ‘be complicit in crimes against the American people.’ We see the writing on the wall, and we have decided that it is best for us to shut down Silent Mail.”
The extent of NSA surveillance is unknown, but what little we see is deeply unsettling. What our government says about it can't be believed; the government uses deliberately misleading language or outright lies about the scope of surveillance.
So I don't blame Pamela Jones or question her decision. It's not the only way. I don't think it's my way, yet — though I am having some very concerned conversations about whether it's safe, or even ethical, to have confidential attorney-client communications by email.
I hope that Pamela's decision will arouse the interest, or attention, or outrage, of a few more people, who will in turn talk and write and advocate to get more people involved. Groklaw was a great resource; citizens will care that it's gone. (The government and its minions won't.)
Pamela's choice will likely be met with the usual arguments: the government doesn't care about your emails. If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about. This is about protecting us from terrorist attacks, not about snooping into Americans' communications. Don't you remember 9/11?
I tire of responding to those. Let me offer one response that applies to all of them: I don't trust my government, I don't trust the people who work for my government, and I believe that the evidence suggests that it's irrational to offer such trust.
Let me close by repeating my four points from yesterday that guide my evaluation of such matters, this time without links:
1. The government lies to you about the extent of its surveillance of you.
2. The government says it needs secrecy, but lies about its secrets and the grounds for keeping them secret.
3. The government says it needs expanded powers to fight terrorism, but lies: in fact it uses expanded "anti-terrorism" powers to advance a variety of domestic agendas.
4. Terrorism is whatever the government says it is.