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Obituaries: Legal-Tech Blog Groklaw, Two Email Services Shut Down

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By William Peacock, Esq. on August 20, 2013 2:55 PM

Privacy is dead, and now, as a result, Groklaw, Lavabit, and Silent Mail are too.

Groklaw, an award-winning law and technology blog that has served as an invaluable resource for tech-minded individuals that didn't understand law, law-minded individuals that didn't understand tech, and everyone in between, will be no more after its founder, Pamela Jones, issued a 2200 word goodbye Tuesday morning, stating "there is now no shield from forced exposure."

Similarly, two secure email services, Lavabit and Silent Mail, have also recently shut down, rather than turn over users' information to the NSA.

Secure Email Doesn't Exist

Lavabit, which was used by Edward Snowden, announced its shutdown earlier this month, though it assured users that it would continue fighting "for the Constitution" in the Fourth Circuit. Though a gag order prevented the site's founder, Ladar Levinson, from elaborating, his shutdown announcement simply stated that he was "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." He chose the latter.

Silent Mail, seeing the writing on the wall, followed suit, and later explained that even with encrypted email, the metadata (the parties to the message, the servers used to route the mail, etc.) remain unsecured. Though they had apparently received no requests from the NSA, it was simply a matter of time.

Lavabit's owner suggests not trusting your private data to a company with physical ties to the United States. Silent Circle, which also provides other secure communication channels, pointed to the metadata problem in advising against using email at all, while Jones, of Groklaw, is mostly "going dark," abstaining from Internet use as much as possible and switching to a Switzerland-based email provider that is not subject to U.S. laws.

Groklaw, the Martyr

Jones and the other contributors would rely upon legal and tech minds, as well as volunteers who would visit, record, and transcribe important legal events, such as hearings in the Apple v. Samsung case. Communication was done via email, and with that no longer able to be secured, Jones chose to shut down rather than continue in a state of perpetual surveillance, stating, "Now that I know that ensuring privacy online is impossible. I find myself unable to write."

It is possible that other secure means of communication could have been obtained. Perhaps someone could have devised a proprietary system, with end-to-end encryption, that would have restored a sense of privacy. But the message looms larger when one of the most recognized law and technology blogs shuts its doors abruptly, rather than hope that some new, expensive system will protect them from their own nation.

Jeremy Bentham designed the panopticon prison as "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example," with the thought that the possibility of constant surveillance would discourage improper behavior.

A lack of privacy, and even the possibility that one's private communications are being monitored, will do much to silence dissent and to discourage independent speech and thought. The NSA has now done exactly what our nation's founders feared: begin chilling free speech and the modern equivalent of a free press.

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