Wikileaks: Web Censorship Won’t Work February 23, 2008Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Essays, Journalism, News, Social Media, Trends.
Tags: censorship, First Amendment, Julius Baer, Wikileaks
The order by a California court to muzzle anti-corruption site Wikileaks smacks of contempt for free speech online that parallels practices in repressive countries committed to Web censorship. As feeble as it is offensive, this abuse refocuses attention on the idea of a whistle-blower wiki whose time has come.
Prompted not by government but corporate interests, the restraining order on Wikileaks betrays an ignorance of the Internet domain system and an unfamiliarity with the instinct of Web communities to counter hostile action against free online speech. Outraged netizens have rushed to publicize alternate addresses of backup sites that remain online in defiance. The gag order has the opposite effect of what it intended.
Wikileaks is up from Sweden at (http://188.8.131.52) and mirror sites hosted in Belgium (http://wikileaks.be/), Germany (http://wikileaks.de) and the Christmas Islands (http://wikileaks.cx). Fans of Wikileaks have distributed copies of the offending bank information on their sites and via peer-to-peer file sharing networks. Now even folks who have not heard of Wikileaks or Julius Baer know about the fiasco.
Swiss Bank Julius Baer, registered in the Cayman Islands, sued Wikileaks and successfully requested that its Website be blocked. Wikileaks had posted documents about off-shore trust structures in the Cayman Islands which allegedly implicate Baer in money laundering and tax evasion. Baer claims Wikileaks published and altered documents stolen by a former executive. A recap of Wikileaks coverage of Bank Julius Baer is mirrored here.
Founded in 2006 by dissidents, journalists, mathematicians and computer specialists from around the world, Wikileaks is a wiki platform for whistle-blowers to safely post documents in a manner that cannot be traced. Other users could then analyse the information and discuss its reliability and significance.
Wikileaks says it has published more than 1.2 million documents. They uncover dirt ranging from rules of engagement for American troops in Iraq to the operation of prison at Guantánamo Bay. Though it focuses on government and corporate wrong-doing in Asia, Africa and Middle East, Wikileaks has received most attention with secrets revealed in the US, Europe and Caribbean.
This major test of First Amendment rights is unheard of in the West. As the case heads for the appeals court, one wonders why Wikileaks must explain the meaning of the First Amendment in the land of free speech. “There is no justification under the First Amendment for shutting down an entire Web site,” say David Ardia, Director of Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School:
First, the banks overreached. They worked out what appears to be a sweetheart deal with Wikileaks’ domain name registrar, Dynadot. Even though Dynadot appears to bear no liability for the material at issue, the banks added Dynadot as a defendant in the case.
No doubt thinking they had come up with a legal “silver bullet,” the banks and Dynadot signed a joint stipulation in which Dynadot agreed to, among other things, “lock” and “disable the wikileaks.org domain name” in exchange for being dismissed from the case (a case in which, it appears, Dynadot bore no liability). To give their stipulation the force of law, the banks slipped an order to the judge, which he promptly signed.
Director of Citizen Media Law Project, Harvard Law School
Wikileaks is getting legal help in its court fight. Freedom of speech group, The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and digital rights advocacy, Electronic Frontier Foundation plan to argue on its behalf at a legal hearing on 29 February.
On another note, the European Parliament has accepted a move by Dutch conservative member Jules Maaten to consider Web censorship a trade barrier. This was first reported in Dutch, on the Web site of Maaten’s political party, the VVD. When the proposal is accepted, the EU has to take measure against countries who deploy Web censorship.