Big Brother Isn’t A Reason For Journalists To Quit The Internet


In fear of Big Brother, award-winning technology law blog, Groklaw, has decided to shut down. TechCrunch, however, will not be following its lead. There is always a risk that an abusive government agent may try to intercept or intimidate our sources, but it’s the kind of risk that every media outlet has faced since the printing press and will continue to face into the foreseeable future.

In a heart-felt blog post, beloved Groklaw progenitor, Pamela Jones, explains that the only way to avoid the possibility of being monitored by the National Security Agency is to go completely off the grid. “My personal decision is to get off of the Internet to the degree it’s possible. I’m just an ordinary person.” Since Groklaw’s (impressive) brand of source-driven journalism was heavily reliant on email and online chatter, Jones claims, “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.”

While I’m no fan of secret spying, the decision to shut down has struck some journalists as rather odd. Any media outlet worth their salt regularly deals with confidential sources, often in a legal grey area that threatens both big businesses and the government itself. This most definitely poses risks. Recently, in the most extreme case, British spy agencies have detained journalists and destroyed hard drives to prevent further leaks of information.

But, this shouldn’t deter us. As the reporter tied to classified government leaks, Glenn Greenwald, explained after his partner was detained in Heathrow Airport, “If the UK and US governments believe that tactics like this are going to deter or intimidate us in any way from continuing to report aggressively on what these documents reveal, they are beyond deluded. If anything, it will have only the opposite effect: to embolden us even further.

The logic of Groklaw seems to imply that all media outlets should shut down. There’s a few holes in this logic.

First, there are secure ways to communicate over email. Journalists can use end-to-end encryption, which is mostly spy  proof (probably how Greenwald communicates with his source, Edward Snowden). It’s true that some secure email providers have shut themselves down, but that’s only because the government can force them to turn over emails with the senders knowing. Individuals can and do send encrypted messages all the time that are stored on their local computers. Indeed, one secure communications provider, Silent Circle, shut down, in part, to “drive” users towards these independent types of communications.

Second, it is highly unlikely the NSA would care about a journalist like Jones or any of her sources. Jones informs people about tech law. The British government got in enough trouble when they detained their biggest threat for 9 hours in an airport; attacking the thousands of writers who deal with sensitive government matters is just plain impossible in a democratic state. Unless Jones has a scoop on some new super-secret government project, she’s just one of thousands of journalists the U.S wouldn’t target, even their wildest anti-Democratic dreams.

So, unless you believe we’re on the road to North Korea, it’s difficult to imagine why any media outlet should should shut down. I fancy myself a tad neurotic, but I won’t stop writing anytime soon and have no fear for myself or any of my sources. So, please come back Jones; the Internet hearts you.