It’s not likely breaking news at this point, but Pamela Jones has chosen to take down one of the stalwarts of the blogosphere, Groklaw. Her reasoning follows the line of reasoning of Ladar Levinson, founder of Lavabit, the confidential email provider who refuses to become a forced government rat.
Not being a groky kind of lawyer, much of what happened at Groklaw went over my head, especially because of their love of geek language, which I don’t speak. But its value and substance were well known, and more importantly, well appreciated. And now, PJ has pulled the plug. As Ken writes (having gotten to this before me since my host’s servers failed),
Running a blog long-term can be exhausting, irritating, and sometimes discouraging. Creative efforts have arcs, with a beginning and an end. If Jones were closing up shop because she’s had enough and has accomplished what she set out to do, I would be sorry to see her go, but it would be the kind of sorry you feel when you finish a good book.
That’s not why she’s stopping.
Pamela Jones is ending Groklaw because she can’t trust her government. She’s ending it because, in the post-9/11 era, there’s no viable and reliable way to assure that our email won’t be read by the state — because she can’t confidently communicate privately with her readers and tipsters and subjects and friends and family.
This raises all sort of alarms, bells going off, lights flashing. If PJ feels so strongly that she has decided to pull the plug on Groklaw, why not me? Why not all of us? Why have an internet at all if the government has so thoroughly infiltrated it such that I might as well be sending my every thought straight to the NSA? This same question occurred to Ken as well:
The extent of NSA surveillance is unknown, but what little we see is deeply unsettling. What our government says about it can’t be believed; the government uses deliberately misleading language or outright lies about the scope of surveillance.
So I don’t blame Pamela Jones or question her decision. It’s not the only way. I don’t think it’s my way, yet — though I am having some very concerned conversations about whether it’s safe, or even ethical, to have confidential attorney-client communications by email.
While it strikes me as incredibly surprising that I, the dinosaur Luddite of the blawgosphere, could possibly be more attuned to the impact of technology on privacy, I have never thought otherwise than that my every computer utterance would ultimately end up in a file about me (and maybe you too) somewhere.
This could be due to my general lack of computer savvy in conjunction with my innate skepticism borne of years of experience in criminal defense. I never assume otherwise. I do not hold substantive conversations with clients on cell phones. I do not engage in substantive communications by email. It’s not that I am certain that it’s not secure, but I am certain that I can’t assure that it’s secure, and that always struck me as a damn fine reason not to do so. It’s not my right to expose my clients to the possibility of interception, and it is my duty to do whatever I can to avoid doing so.
It occurred to me this morning, after learning that PJ was closing Groklaw, that if the telephone was invented today, chances are pretty good that there would be few, if any, controls on wiretapping. Privacy is no longer in fashion.
But like Ken, it’s not enough of a reason for me to shut down SJ, or end my internet presence. If anything, it’s the reason why I do as much out in public as I do. The argument that I would let the government have its way if I have nothing to hide is an affront to my sensibilities. And yet, I don’t have much to hide at SJ and so I make the choice of making my thoughts public. The government may not like what I have to say at times, but it’s out there and they can read about it as much as they want.
One aspect of PJ’s decision is the privacy of her tipsters, which I can well appreciate. I assume, but can’t say for sure, that she means that people are providing her with confidential information that isn’t otherwise available on the internet. I get some of that as well, though not enough that it has much of an impact. That said, the better solution seems to be to remind anyone inclined to send me an email with information they don’t want the government to see to find a different way to communicate. Assume your emails are compromised and write nothing that you don’t want the world to know about.
But to give up SJ because the government is watching is to abdicate my principles. I fight the government when it’s wrong, and they know it. I’ve got nothing to hide, and I won’t stop because it’s watching. But no, I don’t consent to a search. Maybe PJ will reconsider, and not let concern about the end of privacy on the internet stop her from doing what she needs to do.
On the other hand, if we all reach the point where the loss of privacy impairs our ability to speak out against the government, the ramifications will be horrifying. I will not let the government’s intrusion into every aspect of personal privacy cause me to go silent. Sorry, guys, but not here.