The Canary in the Coal Mine: Groklaw Shuts Down

If you follow me on Twitter or elsewhere, you'll have noticed that I've been tweeting rather extensively about the NSA's spying, the most recent attacks on Glenn Greenwald and now the Guardian. If you were still wondering what any of this has to...


If you follow me on Twitter or elsewhere, you'll have noticed that I've been tweeting rather extensively about the NSA's spying, the most recent attacks on Glenn Greenwald and now the Guardian. If you were still wondering what any of this has to do with open source, this latest news might clarify things a little:

The foundation of Groklaw is over. 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.

I'm really sorry that it's so. I loved doing Groklaw, and I believe we really made a significant contribution. But even that turns out to be less than we thought, or less than I hoped for, anyway. My hope was always to show you that there is beauty and safety in the rule of law, that civilization actually depends on it. How quaint.

If you have to stay on the Internet, my research indicates that the short term safety from surveillance, to the degree that is even possible, is to use a service like Kolab for email, which is located in Switzerland, and hence is under different laws than the US, laws which attempt to afford more privacy to citizens. I have now gotten for myself an email there, p.jones at in case anyone wishes to contact me over something really important and feels squeamish about writing to an email address on a server in the US. But both emails still work. It's your choice.

My personal decision is to get off of the Internet to the degree it's possible. I'm just an ordinary person. But I really know, after all my research and some serious thinking things through, that I can't stay online personally without losing my humanness, now that I know that ensuring privacy online is impossible. I find myself unable to write. I've always been a private person. That's why I never wanted to be a celebrity and why I fought hard to maintain both my privacy and yours.

Oddly, if everyone did that, leap off the Internet, the world's economy would collapse, I suppose. I can't really hope for that. But for me, the Internet is over.

So this is the last Groklaw article. I won't turn on comments. Thank you for all you've done. I will never forget you and our work together. I hope you'll remember me too. I'm sorry I can't overcome these feelings, but I yam what I yam, and I tried, but I can't.

Yes, Groklaw is shutting down, as a direct result of the revelations that the world's communications – including our emails – are being spied upon by the NSA and GCHQ. That's a huge loss for the open source world: Groklaw played an immensely important part in fighting off the absurd but dangerous SCO attack on free software. Alongside that main work it has conducted countless legal analyses of various other attempts to use patents and copyright to undermine open source. And it has done it applying the open source method of collaboration, a significant achievement in itself.

But the guiding force behind Groklaw, PJ, feels she can't go on when something so fundamental as the privacy of her communications can no longer be taken for granted. In her final post, she compares the feeling to an earlier one when her flat was broken into, and someone went through all her belongings. It's a powerful and apt metaphor as anyone who has had this experience (I have) will tell you – that sense of violation of a totally personal sphere.

It's a loss of a fundamental freedom – the freedom to have a personal space, both physical and mental. And of course free software is about preserving freedoms of all kinds. That means that it stands in stark opposition to what is emerging from each successive revelation about online spying. It means that open source is one of the few answers we have to the question: what can we now do to claw back a little of what we have lost in terms of privacy, control and freedom? For example, it's heartening to see coders coming together to create Mailpile, an open source email solution with the following key features:

Mailpile is a modern web-mail you run on your own computer.

You can host your install of mailpile on your laptop, desktop, Raspberry PI or a server in the cloud. Or put it on a USB stick and carry it in your pocket. It's your choice.

OpenPGP signatures and encryption are part of Mailpile's core design, not an afterthought or plugin.

An intuitive, modern user interface makes strong security accessible to everyone.

Store your mail on devices you control, encrypt it and share or restrict access as you see fit.

You can even encrypt the local settings and search index so if your computer gets stolen, your mail stays secure.

Mailpile is seeking funding using Indiegogo, and at the time of writing is very close to its goal.

The tragic and unnecessary loss of a site like Groklaw is a reminder of what is threatened by the surveillance state, and the current attacks on the free press. It's the canary in the coal mine, serving as a warning to us to act before its too late. Similarly, the appearance of projects like Mailpile is a reminder that all is not lost while there are still people willing to write open source software to help defend fundamental freedoms.

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