Privacy concerns cause 'PJ' to close Groklaw

Privacy concerns cause 'PJ' to close Groklaw

Summary: The well-regarded Groklaw intellectual property law news and analysis site is closing because its founder, Pamela Jones, feels she can no longer trust email for the essential privacy she feels the site needs to continue.


Groklaw, one of the most influential intellectual property law news and analysis sites, has closed its doors. Its creator, chief writer and editor Pamela "PJ" Jones, decided to shut down Groklaw because of the threat of email surveillance.


This isn't the first time that Jones has tried to close Groklaw.

In 2011, she brought the site to an end because she felt that Groklaw had accomplished its main goal of defeating SCO in its attempt to cripple Linux. Then, persuaded that Groklaw's work of shedding light on technology intellectual property (IP) lawsuits was far from done, she turned the site over to Mark Webbink, the executive director of the Center for Patent Innovations, a research and development arm of New York Law School's Institute for Intellectual Law & Property.

Jones found herself unable to leave the site, and soon was working as hard as ever on covering such technology IP issues as patent lawsuits and the Aaron Swartz case. Recent revelations about the lack of privacy on the internet drove her to reconsider keeping Groklaw up.

Citing Ladar Leviso, the former owner of private email service Lavabit, who recently closed it because of its inability to protect its users' emails, Jones said, "He's stopped using email, and if we knew what he knew, we'd stop, too." Well, Jones does know, and she's decided that the risks are too great.

Jones, who I've known for over a decade, is very concerned with her personal privacy and the privacy of her many sources who she credits for Groklaw's rise to being one of the go-to sites for IP legal news. She feels that she's been put in a no-win situation.

In her last posting, Jones said that under the current state of the law and technology "There is now no shield from forced exposure. Nothing in that parenthetical thought list is terrorism-related, but no one can feel protected enough from forced exposure anymore to say anything the least bit like that to anyone in an email, particularly from the US out or to the US in, but really anywhere. You don't expect a stranger to read your private communications to a friend. And once you know they can, what is there to say? Constricted and distracted. That's it exactly. That's how I feel."

Without this foundation of communication privacy, Jones feels she's can't continue her work. "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."

While we differ on the importance of potential privacy breeches, I can't disagree with her position. Jones has been stalked by unscrupulous "journalists" and others. As the saying goes, it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you.

That said, Groklaw will be sorely missed. My fellow technology journalist, Rob Pegoraro, wishes "She'd at least found somebody else to run the site: While we're having this hypothetical discussion [over email interception and decryption], very real copyright and patent extortion is going on, and Groklaw was doing a damn good job of exposing it."

I asked Jones about someone else continuing Groklaw and she told me she'd be happy "If anyone wants to do it, if it was someone like that, but no one will. It's so much work. It's too big to be a part-time thing."

Sadly, she's right. I'm a workaholic myself, and I'm known for producing many stories in a short amount of time. I couldn't maintain her level of quality journalism for a month, much less the more than 10 years that Jones kept Groklaw going for.

As Andrew "Andy" Updegrove, founding partner of the well-regarded business and technology law firm Gesmer Updegrove LLP, told me, "For over a decade, PJ has provided a unique service to her readers. She is justifiably well known for her ability to make the law and legal proceedings comprehensible to non-lawyers."

Updegrove continued, "What is less well known is the fact that Groklaw has been a must read for countless lawyers as well — including the attorneys on both sides of the SCO litigation. Over and over again, I heard them comment with amazement at how much she was able to uncover with the aid of her vast network of similarly dedicated community members. Her determination and tireless commitment to getting to the bottom of things was particularly invaluable as traditional journalism budgets were slashed and technology reporting too often standardized on 600-word stories."

That said, Updegrove "certainly understand where she is coming from. But I also hope that with time she will reconsider her decision. Needless to say, if everyone who digs for the truth makes a similar decision, we'll be in trouble indeed. But that's an unfair thing to say, because PJ has done so much for so long she's entitled to call it a day."

I quite agree. I wish her all the best with her future endeavors, but I, and anyone who cares about IP legal coverage, will miss her and her work. Thank you, PJ, for all you've done.

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Topics: Legal, Linux, Networking, Privacy

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  • "If a tree falls in the forest,

    and there isn't anyone in the forest, does it make a sound?" That's sort of what I'm reminded of. There will still be IP battles in the forest, some IP trees may even fall, but who will we have to listen and let the rest of us know?
    • The Infallible conjecture !!!

      So can you prove the moon does not exist if no one is looking at it ??

      How can you prove that it does ??

      So does a tree make a noise if it falls in a forest with no one there to hear it ?
      Can you prove it does ?

      Trouble is with PJ's site is no one is there to hear the noise, no matter how loud the noise is if no one is there to hear it, it does not matter.
      It's not that no one cares, it's that no one cares, it's about relevancy. Something lacking.

      Like "Boycott Novell" and "tech dirt" both pointless sites and their patronage reflects that..
  • Can't she just use PGP?

    Without a key, nobody is reading PGP encrypted email!
    • I advise you to read the article in full.

      Of course PJ considered encryption. However:

      "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."
      • I read it too

        With a good key (gpg) it's still an unfeasible task even for 5 years. With an advent of quantum computing this might all change... and who knows when all this will become a reality.
        • If NSA says "5 years", they must keep it at least 12 years

          Who believes the NSA anymore?

          Even if the NSA was being candid about the 5 years policy, it'd be like copyright terms, with extension upon extension (they wouldn't even have to get some actor-turned-politician to submit a bill to Congress).
  • Privacy concerns cause 'PJ' to close Groklaw

    Its about time. The amount of crap that site spewed was unbelievable. A bunch of armchair wannabe lawyers trying to tell us about the law. It was all FUD.
    • I suppose the court documents were FUD???

      That site is what kept several companies even semi-honest.
    • "The amount of crap ... spewed"

      Pretty much the first time I see you talk about something you actually know and have diligently demonstrated so many times here.
    • Someone asked "What if a tree fell and no one heard it?"

      The corollary might be, "What if LD posted a rather strange comment and no one responded?"

      Think about it.
    • well a microsoft shill really would hate groklaw wouldn't they?

      lovec**k.... you have always been a MS stooge.. so makes sense that people pointing out the failings of MS would incur your wrath.
  • Conversely it is paranoia if they actually aren't out to get you

    I'm sure they've been reading everything sent to groklaw since the very beginning. Does anyone have any proof that they've abused that power? Get serious. They probably find it occasionally entertaining in its absurdity as we all do but nothing more.
    Johnny Vegas
    • yes.

      That is why Snowden is under such pressure now.

      It was illegal for the NSA (or any other government agency) to spy on US citizens - even though it could have been done anyway.
  • Sad news

    While I disagree with some of the work done at Groklaw, which had gone on to become a shill for some companies, it still had a point of view. At this rate the only point of view which we would be able to read is a government approved one.
  • PJ hasn't being doing Groklaw for YEARS

    Anybody who followed Groklaw in the early years can easily see that PJ hasn't done any articles since she "donated" the blog to the FSF. You have to be completely clueless to think that PJ would change from a very articulate writer, into somebody who is constantly using legalize talk to explain everything.

    Groklaw is being maintained by a few (as in multiple) lawyers at the FSF ... and they are just faking that PJ is still writing articles. You can actually see the "multiple personalities" in the very different writing styles of multiple articles sitting next to each other.
    • You are talking rubbish.

      "Anybody who followed Groklaw in the early years can easily see that PJ hasn't done any articles since she "donated" the blog to the FSF."

      The Groklaw servers are not even cold, and already the hyenas are out. Goodness knows what you hope to gain through this drivel, though...
  • this was a shock

    to me, since PJ seemed to be so good at "digging for truth" and crucial in this crusade (not won yet) against the patent debauchery for so many years.
    I still hope she will come back.
    As far as privacy in email is concerned, imagine everyone is using trusted email clients only: Thunderbird, mutt, evolution, alpine, rmail and others. All of them have imap4, pop4 and have incorporated flawless GPG support for many years. Imagine now if everyone would be using gpg+any of the trusted email client? What a pain in the arse for NSA would that be? Or perhaps, the winter in North Dakota would be warmer than that in Arizona when because of overheated supercomputers trying to crack the encryption....
  • What amazes me is that no one will take over

    Numerous options must exist for continuance of Groklaw to continue, but not as a donated full time job. Seriously, if the information is that valuable in the IP and patent wars, it's worth big bucks to those being sued by the patent trolls and even the real patent and IP owners.

    If the legal beagles at the FSF are really maintaining this under PJ's name, all they need is a paid manager. You know, hiring a paid manager and creating a subscription service can't be all bad. Even the FSF understands covering costs after all.

    Seems like there might be two real reasons it's folding and neither have anything to do with privacy.

    1. Information isn't worth as much as people believe, in other words, no one is willing to pay for it. If they were willing to pay for it, some enterprising type could make a living out of it with subscription fees.

    2. FSF is so anti profit that it refuses to allow it to go forward under a subscription or other money making model. I know Stallman gets stuck on his high horse quite often, but even he understands the value of the information, maybe.

    At any rate, it's amazing that no one will take over, or indicative that privacy has nothing to do with its closure.

    Press releases rarely shed light on the facts.
    • Cynical99...It really is a shame to see them gone

      At least with Groklaw you got the true facts. She kept jerks like Loverock Davidson at bay here on Zdnet with his usual line of BS. PJ was presented facts that pointed out how those loosers at SCO would fail in the end and they did.
      Over and Out
      • But still,

        if the data is that valuable, if the service she provided is that valuable, will no one take over?

        Seems to indicate that it's simply not that valuable, though I find it hard to believe.