Tech legal news site Groklaw shutting down, citing email privacy concerns

Running Groklaw is impossible now due to government surveillance, according to site owner Pamela Jones

Technology legal news website Groklaw is shutting down due to concerns over the continued availability of secure email in the wake of revelations about U.S. government surveillance.

"The owner of Lavabit tells us that he's stopped using email and if we knew what he knew, we'd stop too," site founder Pamela Jones said in a farewell post Tuesday. "There is no way to do Groklaw without email. Therein lies the conundrum."

Groklaw, which was launched 10 years ago, has been known for its exhaustive coverage of technology law, particularly involving software patents, open source software and privacy issues.

Secure email provider Lavabit recently announced it would shut down due to an ongoing legal dispute, presumably with the U.S. government. "I have been forced to make a difficult decision: to become complicit in crimes against the American people or walk away from nearly ten years of hard work by shutting down Lavabit," company owner Ladar Levison wrote on its website.

Lavabit was reportedly used by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked documents related to NSA spying programs and is now in Russia after being given asylum. Following Lavabit's closure, Silent Circle also shut down its secure email service, while calling the move a preemptive one rather than something precipitated by a government subpoena or warrant.

On one level it's little surprise Jones felt compelled to shut down Groklaw, given how fiercely she has protected her own privacy over the past 10 years.

"There is now no shield from forced exposure," Jones wrote. "Now that I know that ensuring privacy online is impossible. I find myself unable to write."

But that's not to say someone else won't restart Groklaw. In an email on Tuesday, Jones suggested she wouldn't stand in the way of such a scenario but called it unlikely.

"If someone else wants to do it, and everyone wants to participate knowing what they know, of course," she wrote. "But it's a lot of work, and I don't think anyone will step forward. Maybe they'd do it for money, but that would basically ruin the project, in my view."

It's also doubtful that Jones would be willing to restart the site herself, should acceptable circumstances arise regarding email security.

"For me, I looked into the security stuff pretty deeply, and no, I wouldn't reopen it myself," she said. "What I wrote, I meant."

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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