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August 24th, 2013

Chilling Effect

The principal behind Groklaw
threw in the towel and said that she can no longer do her job in this
climate of surveillance. Besides, as she explained, the premise behind
Groklaw that we live under a rule of law that we can all understand has
been proven flawed. I cried.

Groklaw didn't typically cover privacy law. However, I think in the
years ahead we really could benefit from public exposure and exploration
of the privacy related cases. There are some interesting ones as people
have explored what they can do to push back against the government.
Even if the news is all bad, information, commentary and analysis is
power. At an emotional level it reminds us we have the right to know
how our government functions; we have the right to petition our
government for the redress of grievances. We know others think like
us. We can share, heal, be human. At a practical level, knowledge and
information is necessary to effect change and persuade.

PJ is not as far as I can tell afraid of persecution; writing about
patent cases, the GPL and similar is unlikely to bring down the special
attention of our government. However she claims that the forced
intimacy of the common surveillance everyone attracts is sufficient that
she cannot do her job. Her explanation is chilling and makes a lot of
sense.

A number of people I've talked to have similar reactions. They are
stepping away from the Internet, stepping away from people they know who
might attract attention. They are changing their lives simply because
they are being I respect that choice, but I am sad every time I hear
someone has made that choice. Each time someone is chilled, we are all
diminished. There are fewer voices speaking out and being themselves.
It's harder to choose to be yourself when you know that others are
leaving especially when you realize people will turn from you to avoid
attention.

Also, I'd like to come back to the idea of the rule of law. I have
noticed that I've recently given up on my belief in the rule of law. I
notice it most in how I react to historical texts and fiction. I was
reading fiction over the weekend in which someone wanted to report a
crime to the police without being traced. Looking at the precautions
they took I laughed realizing that today, that would be entirely
inadequate. I also realized that there's no way I'd anonymously report
something to the government today, and I'd be much more willing to let a
crime stand than to report it myself. I've also found my reactions to
assumptions about whether government is just have changed significantly.

All this is really bad. As in "four legs good, two legs better,"
levels of bad. I understand the historical significance of these sorts
of changes on a population. I hope you take the time to ponder them. I
will be turning to some constructive thoughts over the next month, but
for now I'm still processing my reactions over the last 13 years.

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