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Citing Privacy Worries, Tech And Legal Site Groklaw Shuts Down

The website Groklaw, which for 10 years demystified complex issues involving technology and the law, is shutting down. Editor Pamela Jones writes that she can't run the site without email, and that since emails' privacy can't be guaranteed, she can no longer do the site's work.

"I loved doing Groklaw, and I believe we really made a significant contribution," Jones writes, in her farewell post. "But even that turns out to be less than we thought, or less than I hoped for, anyway. My hope was always to show you that there is beauty and safety in the rule of law, that civilization actually depends on it. How quaint."

Jones titled the post "Forced Exposure." Online, the news of Groklaw's closure was met with shock and sadness among its readers.

In a sentiment that was retweeted nearly 500 times, technology writer Clay Shirky wrote, "Groklaw shuts down: 'There is now no shield from forced exposure' by the US. I started crying, reading PJ's last post."

Groklaw began in the spring of 2003, and grew in popularity when Jones, a tech-savvy paralegal living in New York, provided comprehensive analysis and research of the legal challenges that threatened the open-source Linux operating system.

For the next decade, Groklaw analyzed the cases that shaped the path of free and open-source software and related issues. Operating under the motto "When you want to know more," it became a gathering point for an international crowd of people interested in technology, in legal matters, and (full disclosure) for journalists, as well.

"One part of the group knows what kinds of things are useful in a court case, another knows the tech to understand what's important technically," the site's mission statement reads, "others have skills in researching the history of Unix and Linux, and others volunteer to transcribe, attend court hearings, pick up court documents, etc."

Last year, the American Bar Association named Groklaw one of the top 100 legal blogs. Its articles and interviews were selected by the Library of Congress to be preserved in its Web Archiving project. And we should note that when the library contacted Jones, she asked Groklaw's community to decide whether the materials should be archived.

In 2010, Jones said that the site's high-water mark might be an article titled "An Explanation of Computation Theory for Lawyers," which cites Kurt Gödel, Alonzo Church, and Alan Turing as it explores the underpinnings of software and electronic devices.

In Groklaw's early days, Jones wrote about the music industry's bête noire, peer-to-peer sharing, noting that the main point of contention was that "a new idea was let loose into the world, and it can't be taken back."

But in a similar sense, Jones wrote today that she can't shake the sense of constriction and distraction that comes with knowing her communications with readers and collaborators are not private.

She writes near the end of today's post:

"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."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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