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Groklaw, NSA and Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

The NSA's email spying program is blamed in the shutdown of Groklaw, a popular open-source Website that led the fight against Linux litigant SCO.


Earlier this month, a pair of private email services shut down over fears that they could not guarantee user privacy in the wake of the recent revelations about the National Security Agency's domestic online surveillance activities. Now, that fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) has claimed another victim—the popular Groklaw, a Linux and open-source legal site.

In her final post on Groklaw early this morning, Pamela Jones, or PJ, who ran the site, explained that she's worried about the current state of email privacy (or rather the lack of privacy). The Groklaw site has grown and survived via email contributions and she doesn't see a way forward in a world where privacy doesn't exist.

"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," PJ wrote. "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."

In my view, this is a terrible blow for the open-source and Linux communities. PJ and Groklaw were the voice of reason and resistance in the face of FUD from Linux litigant SCO Group for the better part of the last 10 years. SCO had been trying to argue that Linux somehow infringed or violated SCO's intellectual property. Over a decade-long battle, Groklaw informed us all (via its direct and email sources) about all the legal and backroom drama of the whole SCO ordeal.

Though SCO tried at various points to silence PJ and Groklaw, they never succeeded.

Groklaw is the voice of anti-FUD. To see it taken down by the FUD surrounding online privacy is just a travesty. NSA Director General Keith Alexander last month told an audience at Black Hat that his agency isn't spying on us and reading all of our emails. Yet, day after day, we all see leaks and revelations from different sources that seem to indicate otherwise.

As a risk to herself and those that contribute information to Groklaw, it's easy to understand why PJ would not want to continue in an era where email privacy might no longer exist. But it still saddens me, both as a Linux user and as a freedom-loving individual citizen of a democratic nation, where free speech is a protected right.

Now, to be fair, PJ has closed Groklaw down before. In 2011, she announced a plan to stop publishing new articles, as the original aim of the site—to help beat SCO—had been accomplished. But she came back, as attacks against Android and patent challenges persisted.

Will PJ and Groklaw return again this time? I sincerely hope so.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.