Groklaw Goes Dark Because of NSA Surveillance, Who Will Go Down Next?

Written by David Michaelis

Groklaw ceased ops due to U.S. surveillance programs such as NSA PRISM.The implications for media and other sites that rely on anonymous sources are huge. — Groklaw execs said it prided itself on protecting the identity of its anonymous sources and the information they provided. Earlier this week, Groklaw became the first — and likely not the last — commercial website to shutter because of the United States PRISM electronic surveillance program as secretly conducted by the NSA on behalf of U.S. security agencies.

Revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, now in temporary political asylum in Russia, the PRISM project was born out of 9/11 terror fears. PRISM now captures and saves every email communication, social networking activity, web search, Skype and YouTube activity in massive data centers.

The NSA, in trying to fight terrorism it says, is mirroring the Internet activities of all Americans and those the Americans communicate with worldwide. The NSA is saving the data, which is then accessible by law enforcement agencies through a special court that is not part of the U.S. balance of power judicial system under Article III of the U.S. Constitution.

Groklaw execs said they just couldn’t risk their anonymous sources. So they killed off their website. One wonders what sites or enterprises will follow. The knowledge that all data, names, numbers and messages passing through it’s business are being saved by the government for possible retrieval later was too much for Groklaw to swallow.

Is unplugging really the answer? It’s easy to imagine sites relying on confidential information wanting to follow suit. But has the Internet revolution come too far for the mass unplugging of the Internet in response to wholesale NSA spying on American and global citizens?

Groklaw’s self-immolation could signal the beginning of a major sea change in how journalists, lawyers, doctors, politicians, investigators and others who protect anonymity of sources and customers work.

Groklaw was no small fry. The Library of Congress regularly archived Groklaw as a source on the development of laws.

And Groklaw says it has no plans to reopen the service. This is distinctly different from the January 2012 online protest against the U.S. SOPA privacy-proposed legislation that caused more than 7,000 sites to go dark for 12 hours.

This is for real and forever.

Groklaw founder Pamela Jones said there was no other choice. And she said it quite correctly, in my view, as a journalist working for a site that also relies on sources and voraciously protects anonymity. It would be impossible to operate Groklaw, she said in a statement, now that the firm understands the U.S. government’s programs for mass electronic surveillance of web activity, email, phone calls and even postal mail. The U.S. claims it looks at just a fraction of what it collects, but it collects everything — and everything could be examined in the future, after all.

Jones wrote:

There is no way to do Groklaw without email.”

In her remarks, Jones referred to the secure encrypted email service Lavabit, which closed earlier this month because, according to its owner, the site refused to participate in automated government surveillance and interception of messages. That service’s execs called it impossible to guarantee privacy of electronic communications in the United States.

Continued Jones:

They tell us that if you send or receive an email from outside the US, it will be read … if it’s encrypted, they (claim) they keep it for five years, presumably in the hopes of tech advancing to be able to decrypt it against your will and without your knowledge.”

Levinson, the founder of Lavabit added:

It’s not my place to decide whether what Snowden did is right or wrong. I understand the need for secrecy. I understand that the government needs to keep the names of people they are currently investigating and doing surveillance on secret. I am wholly opposed, and find it contrary to our way of life, for the government to keep the methods that they use to conduct that surveillance a national secret. What they are really doing is using that secrecy to hide un-American actions from the general public. “

The Wall Street Journal summed up the issue on 21 August in an article we highly recommend you read. Here’s an excerpt of that excellent piece.

The National Security Agency — which possesses only limited legal authority to spy on U.S. citizens — has built a surveillance network that covers more Americans’ Internet communications than officials have publicly disclosed, current and former officials say. The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75 percent of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans. In some cases, it retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and (it) also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology …”

The Obama administration and the Bush administration oversaw and kept these e-surveillance programs secret from the American people and global citizens. It’s highly reminiscent of both the dystopian vision imagined in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and in the movie The Minority Report.

Groklaw is the first major site to shutter as a result of the late-June reveal of the depth and breadth of the PRISM electronic surveillance project, which directly or indirectly affects every person on Earth who goes online. The government claims that if you have nothing to hide, there’s nothing to worry about, but what happens in the future when you are unjustly accused of a crime, or a government or contractor wants to dig up data on you. The government collects everything and has been for years, all easily accessible in data centers.

Serious journalistic sites will be next to consider unplugging. A professional reporter trying to seek transparency and fight corruption cannot work without anonymous sources. And those sources cannot stay secret if the government can just dig up all communications.

Fear and self-censorship will be the result. The recent interrogation of David Miranda, partner of UK Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald, who broke the story about former NSA contractor Snowden’s revelations in June, created a global scandal. UK officials held the Brazilian national for nine hours at Heathrow — the maximum allowed — and confiscated his computers.

Is intimidation of journalists soon to be widespread? This is likely. As for the public, you either agree with the government’s position or you go to jail.

The UK, of course, is in league with PRISM and shares in the wealth of information, as has been reported.

Even more alarming, British agents barged into the UK Guardian and demolished all the hard drives they believed still contained Snowden-leaked material — and they did it in front of UK Guardian editors. The U.S. government, it was reported, knew that was coming and did nothing to deter it.

Why would it? This is what the First Amendment right to free speech has come to.

Holding Miranda for nine hours in Heathrow Airport in London, sparked a war between the Guardian and the British and American governments.  The companion Glenn Greenwald, the British newspaper journalist and author of sensational revelations about the NSA spying by Edward Snowden, was arrested under section 7 of the Terrorism Act, which allows authorities to detain and search everyone in the ports, airports and frontières.Le Guardian quickly responded to such detention in his columns and on its website, including in an article titled "Betrayal of trust and principles."  The U.S. government has since acknowledged that London had warned about this intervention but denied having been commanditaire.Le journalist Glenn Greenwald has already suggested that intimidation did not work, quite the contrary: " If the British and American governments believe that this tactic will discourage us to continue to make revelations through these documents [submitted by Snowden], they are sadly mistaken.  Actually, it will rather the opposite: we embolden more. "

Cartoon credit: Danziger, via NYTS/CWS

What was the excuse?

British officials said NSA insider Edward Snowden absconded with thousands of sensitive U.S. government documents from servers earlier this year and gave them to the Guardian newspaper. So the U.K. spy agency was forced, officials said, to destroy hard drives containing copies of the documents. Why? It claimed “the newspaper’s servers were not secure.”

It is in the interest of the public – and not just the American public — to find out about government programs that directly affect personal liberties. It is the job of objective journalists to reveal abuses to the public and let the public decide what to do about it. Though the UK doesn’t have the First Amendment press freedoms that the United States does, the outrageousness of it all makes you wonder if a federal raid on the Washington Post, which also covered Snowden on day one, is far behind. For that matter, aNewDomain has published and has been collecting Snowden-leaked materials.

All the government has to do is wave a flag labeled “national security” — that’s the Patriot Act — and First Amendment protections of free speech evaporate instantly. And the government appears not at all interested in the fact that public officials — like Snowden’s former bosses at the NSA — are breaking federal law. They are making the whistleblowers out to be latter-day Rosenbergs disclosing the equivalent of atomic-bomb instructions.

Only angels have nothing to hide

Check out the infographic below to see how detailed the NSA-collected information is.

As the NSA searches up to three degrees of separation, anyone could be and would be included in the wider net of tracking.

This detailed information tells the authorities what your weaknesses are. Or how they can pressure you. From your credit information to your video viewing habits to the contents of your email network and contact lists, this data can be used to create a case on you in the future. For whatever reason. And it doesn’t stop there.

Say they need your collaboration to get to their No. 1 target, who happens to be a friend of a friend of yours. Blackmail. Say they need you to shut up. All they have to do is threaten to tell your wife about the time you spent 45 minutes on a porn site, or share a salacious one-time Skype you engaged in with a coworker. And don’t even think about becoming a whistleblower — unless you’re already in Ecuador or a Russian airport in political asylum.

That’s where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden are now. Assange is in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and Snowden has received temporary asylum in Russia. Bradley Manning, the former U.S. Army private who provided Wikileaks with damning information on U.S. activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, wasn’t so lucky. This week, a U.S. military court sentenced him to 35 years of hard labor.

He was lucky. He was eligible to receive the death penalty for his so-called “acts of treason.”

Don’t miss this three degrees of separation map from MIT.

Check out this online tracking infographic to see what the NSA has on you.

Based in Australia, David Michaelis is a world-renowned international journalist and founder of Link Tv. At, he covers the global beat, focusing on politics and other international topics of note for our readers in a variety of forums. Email him at



Google privacy infographic