Potential exposure is not forced exposure

One of the foremost foes of intellectual-property extortion is shutting down. Groklaw founder and editor Pamela Jones announced this morning in a post, titled “Forced Exposure,” that the possibility of NSA surveillance of her e-mail means she can’t trust e-mail as a means of collaborative input, and therefore the blog must end.

Groklaw signoffThey tell us that if you send or receive an email from outside the US, it will be read. If it’s encrypted, 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. Groklaw has readers all over the world.

This news bothers me deeply–because Groklaw has provided an immense public service in collecting and presenting evidence of grotesque IP abuse such as the SCO Group’s prolonged and mendacious attempt to claim copyright over code in the Linux operating system, and because I don’t like finding fault with somebody whose work I and so many other people admire.

But look: Potential exposure is not forced exposure. Or if it is, it’s always been there. Yes, the NSA might be reading my e-mail and PJ’s. But keyloggers planted by the Russian mob might be reading it too. The NSA might have the ability to crack PGP encryption in five years–or they could have had it all along and haven’t told us, or they could decide to ignore that five-year timeline. Your own computer might be airtight, but what about the machines of all your correspondents? For that matter, how can you be sure you’ve maintained your privacy offline without going into Kaczysnki-esque seclusion?

If your reaction to those possibilities is to declare that all is lost and that you should “get off the Internet to the degree that it’s possible,” as PJ wrote in this morning’s post, then how are you not tumbling into the same existential fear that the defenders of the surveillance state sometimes seem to think is the right and proper state of a compliant citizenry?

I don’t know PJ (friends whose judgment I trust do and profess a deep respect for her) and only have a vague notion of what her life has been like running Groklaw (it’s entailed being the target of an unhealthy dose of character assassination). But with my limited knowledge I can’t endorse her stance. I wish she’d at least found somebody else to run the site: While we’re having this hypothetical discussion, very real copyright and patent extortion is going on, and Groklaw was doing a damn good job of exposing it.

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Weekly output: Silent Circle, smartphone battery life, FM radios in phones, Surface,

Not much to show for myself this week, but then again I spent most of the first half of it off the grid. Next week will be busier.

10/30/2012: Silent Circle Promises Spy-Proof Calls, Discovery News

I learned about this company back in June at the Tech Policy Summit, where co-founder Phil Zimmermann spoke on one panel, then got a briefing about from Zimmermann and another co-founder, Mike Janke, in mid-September. But actually testing Silent Circle’s encrypted-calling and encrypted-texting apps took just long enough that I finished and filed the review only an hour or so before the lights went out–ensuring it went online to a Sandy-diminished audience the next morning. That was not so smart.

11/1/2012:  Lessons of Sandy: How to keep your phone juiced longer, USA Today

I was going to write about ways to find and shut down a lost smartphone (that’ll happen next week), but sharing my own experience with keeping phones ticking along in a blackout seemed more timely. My editor thought so too, which is why a column that normally runs on Sunday appeared Thursday afternoon. It also includes a tip about some Android phones including FM radios that you can use even when you have no wireless service; a reader e-mailed to say that some Windows Phone devices share that feature, which was a point good enough for me to echo in a comment I left on the story.

11/3/2012: Microsoft’s Surface, A Tablet With Many Faces, Discovery News

I’m really on the fence about this tablet. The hardware is as tremendous as the first journalists to get a peek at it claimed this summer, but the software–well, if Microsoft had simply killed off the traditional Windows desktop entirely here, at least I’d know what I was dealing with. Meanwhile, I already own two laptops with great battery life that also run an enormous inventory of applications.