Privacy Law

Groklaw founder shuts down the blog, citing fear of email surveillance

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Updated: The founder of Groklaw has decided to shut down the technology blog because of fears its email communications could be subject to government surveillance.

Former paralegal Pamela Jones founded Groklaw in 2003 to cover legal news of interest to the free software and open source community. In this final post at Groklaw, she says made the decision after learning that the government captures emails sent to and from foreign countries, the Atlantic and the Guardian report.

“The foundation of Groklaw is over,” she writes. “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.”

Jones recalls the time her New York City apartment was burglarized. “Everything had been pawed through and thrown about,” she writes. “I can’t tell how deeply disturbing it is to know that someone, some stranger, has gone through and touched all your underwear, looked at all your photographs of your family, and taken some small piece of jewelry that’s been in your family for generations. …. 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.”

Groklaw won the most reader votes for its legal technology niche in the ABA Journal’s 2012 Blawg 100. Jones says in the final post that she is now using Kolab for email, which is located in Switzerland where the laws offer citizens more privacy.

Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites notes that Jones announced she was shutting down Groklaw once before—in 2011. The response generated by the announcement led Jones to keep the blog alive by giving editor duties to a law professor. “But soon enough she was back at it, both as author and editor,” according to LawSites. “So perhaps Groklaw’s history will repeat itself, and maybe Jones and her blog will return.”

In an email interview with the ABA Journal, Jones says she believes shutting down Groklaw is the right decision, though “I miss it already.” Asked if Groklaw could continue, possibly under a different editor, Jones said she feels a responsibility to look out for the volunteers who supply the technical knowledge, and there is no way to do Groklaw without them.

“I only know what I read,” Jones said, “and what I read is that any email going in or out of the U.S. that is encrypted is saved for years. I need to use encryption sometimes, with the inner core of volunteers, and some of them are outside the U.S. I worry about liability for Groklaw if I continue as is.”

Jones said her decision to end Groklaw wasn’t staged to spur change, though she hopes that will happen. “I really hope that change will ensue, and I have faith that it is possible that it will and then we’ll be able to pick up again,” she told the ABA Journal. “I live in hope.”

Updated at 8 a.m. to include observations by Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites. Updated on Aug. 26 to include comments from an email interview with Jones.

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