Another Site Shuts Down on Government Surveillance Fears

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Former Editorial Director at Entrepreneur Media
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Groklaw, generally considered the go-to web community for legal issues related to technology, has abruptly shut down, citing the U.S. government's surveillance of emails.

In a statement on the site, founder Pamela Jones cited the move by Lavabit founder Ladar Levinson to shut down his encrypted email service because of a legal fight with the government.

"There is now no shield from forced exposure," she wrote.

"You don't expect a stranger to read your private communications to a friend," she added. "And once you know they can, what is there to say?"

Related: Amid Surveillance Concerns, Email Services Pull Plug on Themselves

Groklaw began as a standard law blog in 2003, when Jones began focusing on legal issues around the open-source community. It was touted by her as a place where "lawyers and geeks" could interact, and users found it often had some of the liveliest discussions about issues like trademarks and patents.

Groklaw's tone appealed to the technology community in particular. Its name is derived from the word "grok," coined by science-fiction author Robert Heinlein in his 1961 novel Stranger in a Strange Land to mean complete understanding.

Jones, a paralegal, did not say she had been contacted by the government. However, since her site relies heavily on emails among users, she said she could no longer run the site knowing those communications could be monitored.

Instead, she suggested users switch to Swiss email service Kolab, which she said is less vulnerable to surveillance since it is based overseas.

Related: Facebook Wrong in Refusing to Pay Helpful Hacker

Groklaw's shutdown comes as worldwide governments accelerated their crackdown on what they see as the leak of classified information. On Monday, Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian in the United Kingdom revealed that the government there threatened court action to force the paper to surrender material it had obtained relating to surveillance. Government officials destroyed the paper's hard drives in the Guardian's offices.

In addition to the civil-liberties issues raised, businesses in U.S. increasingly are fretting about the financial impact on government surveillance. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a trade group, says the U.S. cloud-computing industry could lose as much as $35 billion over the next three years because of surveillance.

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