Groklaw, a Website that has spent the past decade covering legal issues important to the open-source community, has decided to shut down.
The reason? Website founder Pamela Jones believes that Groklaw simply can’t continue in an environment of constant online surveillance, as highlighted by The Guardian’s recent revelations of the NSA’s top-secret monitoring programs.
Jones was also disturbed by Lavabit’s recent decision to shut down its secure email service, reportedly because of government pressure. Alluding to a secret battle with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, Lavabit owner Ladar Levison posted a message on the service’s homepage earlier this month that warned his users about the security of their messages. “This experience has taught me one very important lesson,” his note read in part. “Without congressional action or a strong judicial precedent, I would _strongly_ recommend against anyone trusting their private data to a company with physical ties to the United States.”
Levison’s message affected Jones deeply. “The owner of Lavabit tells us he’s stopped using email and if we knew what he knew, we’d stop too,” read her August 20 posting on Groklaw. “There is no way to do Groklaw without email. Therein lies the conundrum.”
The only solution, she added, was to shut down. “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 standpont of the screeners, I don’t know how to function in such an atmosphere,” Jones wrote. “I don’t know how to do Groklaw like this.”
Groklaw’s “greatest hits” include its multiple posts on the Caldera vs. IBM lawsuit; its community also covered a variety of patent and intellectual-property battles, to the point where the Website was frequently cited in law-journal articles. That community featured dozens of top-rate legal and engineering minds capable of explaining each case’s issues in a clear and concise form. As a result of all its hard work, Groklaw won the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award in 2010 (among other accolades).
In turning a powerful spotlight on some arcane legal cases, and leveraging the power of crowds to carefully pick the nuances of those cases apart, Groklaw delivered what many perceived as a valuable service. But Jones felt that service couldn’t endure in the current security environment. Many will see that as a loss.