Groklaw blog closes because of surveillance threat

Groklaw founder cites Lavabit's closure as main incentive for pulling the plug

Shona Ghosh
20 Aug 2013

Groklaw, a well-known legal blog, has abruptly shut down in what privacy advocates claim is a clear demonstration of mass surveillance's chilling effect.

Founder Pamela Jones has announced that she will cease publishing articles on Groklaw in the wake of ongoing revelations that the US, UK and other governments are secretly scooping up huge volumes of private emails, calls, texts and other data in the name of fighting terrorism.

She added that her decision was bound up with the closure of encrypted email provider, Lavabit, which voluntarily shut down amid a legal fight that appears to involve government attempts to win access to customer information.

"The owner of Lavabit tells us that he's stopped using email and if we knew what he knew, we'd stop too," writes Jones. "There is no way to do Groklaw without email. Therein lies the conundrum."

There is no way to do Groklaw without email - therein lies the conundrum

It's thought that the whistleblower behind the spying revelations, Edward Snowden, had been using Lavabit to leak documents to journalists. The service has subsequently become embroiled in a mysterious legal fight, with its founder, Ladar Levison, stating that he'd rather close the service than "become complicit in crimes against the American people", though he couldn't reveal more for legal reasons.

No privacy

There's no suggestion that Groklaw itself has been spied on, but Jones said she now feared there was no way to protect sources without the guarantee of privacy. "It really was a collaborative effort, and there is now no private way, evidently, to collaborate," she writes.

Privacy International told PC Pro that Groklaw's closure was a "clear demonstration" of the chilling effect of undue surveillance.

"The right to privacy is central to the democratic principles of the free flow of speech and ideas," said a spokesperson. "The mere threat of surveillance is enough for citizens to alter their behaviour and censor themselves."

Jones says as much in her impassioned post, stating a loss of faith in the "beauty and safety" of the law.

"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 standpoint of the screeners, I don't know how to function in such an atmosphere," she writes. "I don't know how to do Groklaw like this."

Both Lavabit and another email provider, Silent Circle, closed down earlier this month. Other secure communications providers have also said they would close if threatened with government demands for data.

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