Privacy concerns cause 'PJ' to close Groklaw

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.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

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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