Award-winning website closes amid fears of government snooping in light of Snowden's NSA revelations - Press Gazette

Award-winning website closes amid fears of government snooping in light of Snowden's NSA revelations

The blogger who runs an award-winning legal website has announced that she is closing it following disclosures by whistle-blower Edward Snowden that America's National Security Agency (NSA) is intercepting the world's internet communications.

Pamela Jones, also known as PJ, said in a farewell piece on the Groklaw website, which promises its sources anonymity, that her decision was prompted by the closure of encrypted email provider Lavabit, which Mr Snowden had used in his whistle-blowing activities.

The surveillance of e-mails by the NSA and other governments meant that there was now no "shield from forced exposure" for anyone sharing information, Jones said.

"The owner of Lavabit tells us that he's stopped using email and if we knew what he knew, we'd stop too," she wrote.

"There is no way to do Groklaw without email. Therein lies the conundrum.

"What to do? I've spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure it out. And the conclusion I've reached is that there is no way to continue doing Groklaw, not long term, which is incredibly sad.

"But it's good to be realistic. 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 standpoint of the screeners, I don't know how to function in such an atmosphere. I don't know how to do Groklaw like this."

Jones said a robbery in her apartment had left her feeling "assaulted" and unable to remain living there for even another night, and went on: "I feel like that now, knowing that persons I don't know can paw through all my thoughts and hopes and plans in my e-mails with you.

"They tell us that if you send or receive an email from outside the US, it will be read. If it's encrypted, they keep it for five years, presumably in the hopes of tech advancing to be able to decrypt it against your will and without your knowledge. Groklaw has readers all over the world."

The BBC quoted Michael Meurer, a professor of law at Boston University, as saying he was "saddened" to hear of Groklaw's closure and adding: "It has been a great source for information about the latest developments in technology law and policy. Several of my students launched their research projects based on what they learned reading Groklaw."

London-based patent lawyer Andrew Alton of Urquhart-Dykes and Lord said: "It's been a great resource because it brings together all the available documents, instead of reading second or third hand analysis.

"I understand why Ms Jones has decided it cannot continue.

"There is a danger that, by encouraging people to contribute, those individuals might be incriminating themselves."

The NSA's online surveillance operations came to light as a result of Snowden's leaks to The Guardian.

The NSA has since confirmed having collected and analysed e-mails and other "select communications" from non-US citizens, and had also said that it "sometimes incidentally acquired" messages from US citizens.

But in a separate piece, the Groklaw website pointed out that the NSA's two key "defences" of the thousands of abuses and violations of the law were that there was no "intent" to abuse the system – which it said would not make illegal things legal – and that "it was such a small percentage of the activity that it's really no big deal".

Meanwhile, two e-mail services which encrypt messages so that only the recipient can read them have also closed as a result of the NSA disclosures and admissions.

The Lavabit service suggested its closure followed harassment by the US government.

Owner and operator Ladar Levison said in a statement on the website: "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. After significant soul searching, I have decided to suspend operations."

He was quoted on the website as saying: "Our government can order us to do things that are morally and ethically wrong, order us to spy on other Americans and then order us – using the threat of imprisonment – to keep it all secret."

A few hours after the Lavabit closure a second encryption firm, Silent Circle, closed its encrypted e-mail service, apparently in a bid to avoid NSA scrutiny which could threaten customers' privacy.



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