More NSA Spying Fallout: Groklaw Shutting Down

from the the-pain-of-being-watched dept

A few months ago, after the NSA spying stories first broke, we wrote about a bit from This American Life where the host, Ira Glass, was interviewing lawyers for prisoners detained at Guantanamo, about the impact of knowing that the government was listening in on every single phone call you made. The responses were chilling. The people talked about how it stopped them from being emotional with their children or other close friends and relatives. How they had trouble functioning in ways that many people take for granted, just because the mental stress of knowing that you have absolutely no privacy is incredibly burdensome. PJ, the dynamo behind Groklaw, has written a powerful piece explaining the similar feeling she's getting from all the revelations about government surveillance, in particular the shutting down of Lavabit by Ladar Levison, and his suggestion that if people knew what he knew about email, they wouldn't use it.

Because of this, she's shutting down Groklaw.

You really need to read the entire piece, but it clearly lays out the sort of mental anguish that you get with the realization that what you thought was private and personal, might not be any more. She compares it to the feeling of having her apartment robbed, and the creepy feeling you get that some stranger was riffing through all of your personal belongings. And, from there, she riffs on the importance of privacy and intimacy, and how the totalitarian state takes those things away, quoting a powerful passage from Janna Malamud Smith's book Private Matters. You should go read the full quotes, but it notes the psychological impact of not having privacy.

And that's how PJ feels right now. The fact that the NSA is collecting all emails in or out of the US, as well as all encrypted messages, means that it's impossible to have that privacy and intimacy that she feels is necessary to run the site:
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.

I'm really sorry that it's so. I loved doing Groklaw, and I believe we really made a significant contribution. 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.
What amazes me in all of these discussions concerning the defenders of such surveillance is that they never even seem able to comprehend the psychological impact of what all of this does. The way people change their behavior when they're being watched constantly, and what that can do to a person.

The fallout from all of this NSA surveillance will take a very, very long time to measure, but it will be profound. The government, again, has put so much emphasis on the "benefit" of preventing an exceptionally low probability event, that it barely even considers the massive costs on everyone else. PJ isn't shutting down Groklaw for the same reasons as Lavabit shut down. But it is the same root cause. The power of a surveillance state to spin out of control has wide-reaching consequences. It's difficult to see how anyone can claim it's worth the costs.
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.

So this is the last Groklaw article. I won't turn on comments. Thank you for all you've done. I will never forget you and our work together. I hope you'll remember me too. I'm sorry I can't overcome these feelings, but I yam what I yam, and I tried, but I can't.
I find this deeply upsetting on many levels, not the least of which is that Groklaw is a needless casualty in a stupid power struggle among weak-minded, power hungry government officials who don't even seem to comprehend what a mess they've created.

Filed Under: email, groklaw, intimacy, nsa, nsa surveillance, pj, privacy, stress, surveillance


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  1. icon
    Dwight Neller (profile), 21 Aug 2013 @ 12:01pm

    Re: Re: Re: NSA - obama

    I absolutely remember the yellow cake debacle and the mysterious Anthrax scare that allowed Congress to pass the PATRIOT Act while hiding in their home states without even bothering to read it first.

    Unfortunately, rather than take a stand against these recent renewals, they were expanded and signed into law again (by his hand). One of the reasons I voted for Obama the first time was to see these wrongs addressed in regard to the PATRIOT and FISA Acts. What I've seen instead is a full reversal of his opinion and now complete support for what is currently being done. I understand the challenges that are involved for a new President. Obama is not a new president now. It took GW Bush less than 2 years to unravel 300 plus years of US tradition regarding Habeas Corpus, due process, illegal search and seizure, executive power, reasonable rights to privacy, free speech and peaceful assembly et al. Now rather than take a definitive stand to reverse this damage, this President is increasing the divide between the US Government and the People who supposedly own it. He had a real chance to (veto) reign in both of these laws and absolutely chose not to. If he considers the FISA / FISC court and their puppet congressional intelligence committee counterparts a real effort for transparency, he is truly living in his own fantasy land (ignorance). The spirit and letter of the PATRIOT Act is being bent further than ever right now as I type this comment.

    So what do we do now? Are we going to wait and see if he wakes up and takes a stand? I doubt that will do any good at all.

    "WASHINGTON Minutes before a midnight deadline, President Barack Obama signed into law a four-year extension of post-Sept. 11 powers to search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of terrorists.

    "It's an important tool for us to continue dealing with an ongoing terrorist threat," Obama said Friday after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

    With Obama in France, the White House said the president used an autopen machine that holds a pen and signs his actual signature. It is only used with proper authorization of the president." Ref: http://tinyurl.com/3j4x67f

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