You may not have heard of Pamela Jones, creator of the legal blog site known as Groklaw, but you may have heard of the legal case that she helped dismantle through patience, research and no small amount of moxie: the $1 billion lawsuit leveled at IBM by The SCO Group in 2003.
Through that case, and the other SCO lawsuits that appeared on the docket in 2003-2004, Jones endured repeated attempts of exposure and no small amount of intimidation by The SCO Group or its proxies… but it would take something else entirely to drive Jones from the Internet once and for all.
On Groklaw today, Jones has announced that she is shutting down the site and removing herself from the Internet. The reason? Recent moves from private e-mail services like Lavabit and Secret Circle to shut down their businesses in order to protect customers from government surveillance.
The owner of Lavabit tells us that he’s stopped using email and if we knew what he knew, we’d stop too.
There is no way to do Groklaw without email. Therein lies the conundrum.
Concerned that Groklaw’s email communications will be or could now be monitored, Jones has opted to end the work on the site entirely.
I hope that makes it clear why I can’t continue. 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 any more 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.
So. There we are. The foundation of Groklaw is over. 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.
It might be a surprise to some that Jones would elect to take this option, rather than make a stand and fight, perhaps with Groklaw itself. The site used crowdsourced research and education to help dispel The SCO Group’s claims that as the owner of the copyright for the UNIX operating system, it was entitled to a licensing fee from any user of the Linux operating system, which SCO also claimed had copied code directly from UNIX.
Those claims were never really settled because ultimately Novell would step forward and successfully challenge SCO’s copyright ownership of UNIX. It turns out that you can’t sue for something you don’t actually own, and SCO’s cases melted like snow on a hot summer’s day.
Through the legal twists and turns of the SCO legal battles in 2005, odd efforts to disclaim Jones would occur. Many of her detractors claimed she was nothing more than an astroturfing front for IBM itself, claims which were made to me as a journalist . In 2005 Sys-Con reporter Maureen O’Gara attempted to track Jones down at her Hartsdale, NY home using, Jones claimed, private investigators to do the leg work the story. That story, later struck down by Sys-Con, painted a less-than-flattering picture of Jones and also appeared to use SCO-delivered clues to track the blogger down.
In 2007, before the Novell case blew SCO’s claims out of the water, accusations that Jones—which may have always been a pen name for the Groklaw editor—was working for IBM came to a head. SCO attempted to serve Jones a subpoena for a deposition with an unknown reason, but the attempt was unsuccessful, according to then-Forbes writer and former ReadWrite Editor in Chief Dan Lyons. Jones claimed she would be taking a “health break” from the site and was unavailable at the time.
Deserved or not, no one can deny that Jones has endured a lot of scrutiny in her tenure at Groklaw. After putting up with the deliberate attacks on her site and character, Jones has demonstrated that she is no wilting flower.
But Jones is, by many accounts, a deeply private person. I have never met her in person, as she has kept her distance, preferring to communicate via e-mail over the years. People who have met her have repeatedly emphasized Jones’ need for personal privacy.
With that in mind, then, Jones’ need to withdraw from the Internet, while frustrating for her and her readers, becomes a little more understandable. Jones has demonstrated a fierce capacity to fight for the law, but her Achilles’ heel has always been the need to protect her own private life and the work done behind the scenes at Groklaw. If the U.S. intelligence community is indeed taking steps to intercept e-mails in a non-targeted manner, then it is clear why Jones is stepping away: she cannot feel safe working in this medium any longer.
My personal decision is to get off of the Internet to the degree it’s possible. 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. 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.
Oddly, if everyone did that, leap off the Internet, the world’s economy would collapse, I suppose. I can’t really hope for that. But for me, the Internet is over.
Given all that Jones has had to put up with, her pulling away from the Internet now should serve as a signal to others that the actions of the U.S. intelligence services will have broad and far-reaching consequences on how much users should trust the Internet.
The casualty of Groklaw may be among the first of many to fall in the privacy wars.
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