On Tuesday, August 20, 2013, Pamela Jones posted an article on Groklaw.net announcing that she’s shuttering the site. Her reason is due to what the U.S. Government is doing to sites like lavabit (which stored emails in an encrypted format, and was used by Edward Snowden to leak NSA documents). Essentially the Government served lavabit with a FISA warrant and gag order. The warrant put the person who runs lavabit into a conundrum–either comply or shut the site down. He chose the latter. The gag order prevents him from discussing certain parts of the FISA letter at all. He can’t even tell his lawyer about them–which means he can’t assist his lawyer in building an effective defense against them.
Ms. Jones decided that since email is the main communication that she has between her and contributors (and readers), and that since she has contributors from all over the world, it wasn’t worth the risk of having to deal with the same issues as lavabit did. So she decided to shut the site down (although it’s still up, and you can still comment on other articles there). Her last post is an eloquent discussion on how “total surveillance” makes you lose your humanity.
It places me in a conundrum of sorts also. I have nothing to hide, as far as the emails I send or receive. But I realize that others do have something to hide, and they have a good reason TO hide those things (and no, I’m not talking about terrorists or people who are committing other crimes). And while commenters on Ms. Jones’ site are speculating that she may have received the same type of FISA letter/gag order that the owners of lavabit did, I don’t think that’s the case. What I think is happening is two-fold. First is exactly what she said in her final post. That she feels violated knowing that the Government will read her emails, and keep them for up to five years to try and decrypt them (if they are encrypted). Secondly, I think she realizes that if there is a law on the books, it can be abused. Who’s to say that some corporation that she’s been writing about, won’t “convince” someone in power to serve her with a FISA letter to get everything that she has on them?
So from my standpoint, what to do… What to do… I’m not shutting the site down, as I’m not in the same position as she (or others are). If I’m served with a lawful (read as legal and properly executed) warrant, I will comply. If the warrant is not lawful, I will fight it to whatever extent that I can. One of the recommendations that Ms. Jones is doing is using a site like kolab for her email. It’s located in Switzerland, so it falls under a different set of laws than the U.S. I won’t do this, because as she pointed out earlier in her post “They tell us that if you send or receive an email from outside the US, it will be read. If it’s encrypted, they keep it for five years, presumably in the hopes of tech advancing to be able to decrypt it against your will and without your knowledge. Groklaw has readers all over the world.” By using a service from Switzerland, you’re guaranteeing that the emails will be read and held on to.
At the end of the day, Groklaw is gone. And the Internet is not a better place for it. The site was one of the most well-known defenses of our legal rights and of Open Source in general. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything she’s posted there (or people’s attitudes about certain corporations), I felt that it was an important site to have around. It kept shining a light in the dark recesses of corporate ethics (whether anyone, including Ms. Jones, realized it or not).
It’s a sad day indeed.. Just sad…