Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Wikileaks censorship proves irrelevant in Internet age

From the New York Times, here's an interesting case study in how government and the courts still overreach in trying to suppress free speech, and how the Internet renders most censorship efforts completely futile. First, the censorship aspect of the case:

The site,, invites people to post leaked materials with the goal of discouraging “unethical behavior” by corporations and governments. It has posted documents said to show the rules of engagement for American troops in Iraq, a military manual for the operation of the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and other evidence of what it has called corporate waste and wrongdoing.

The case in San Francisco was brought by a Cayman Islands bank, Julius Baer Bank and Trust. In court papers, the bank said that “a disgruntled ex-employee who has engaged in a harassment and terror campaign” provided stolen documents to Wikileaks in violation of a confidentiality agreement and banking laws. According to Wikileaks, “the documents allegedly reveal secret Julius Baer trust structures used for asset hiding, money laundering and tax evasion.”

On Friday, Judge Jeffrey S. White of Federal District Court in San Francisco granted a permanent injunction ordering Dynadot, the site’s domain name registrar, to disable the domain name. The order had the effect of locking the front door to the site — a largely ineffectual action that kept back doors to the site, and several copies of it, available to sophisticated Web users who knew where to look.

Sure enough, is unreachable, but those "copies" available to "sophisticated Web users"? Well, for starters, how about looking at an easy-to-reach mirror site in Europe -- like
That mirror site -- and others -- lie completely beyond the jurisdiction of any U.S. court, but as available to Web users as the original, U.S.-based site.

In fact, is covering the progress of the case and publishing relevant documents -- including correspondence between Wikileaks and Julius Baer's attorneys.

I suppose Julius Baer could chase after the mirror sites too, but there are an awful lot of jurisdictions on the planet, each capable of hosting Web sites and each with its own laws about what can and can not be published.

Judge White’s censorship order has been labeled "clearly not constitutional” by David Ardia, the director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School. Just as important, it's unenforceable.

This is far from the first time that the world-wide reach of the Internet has nullified censorship efforts. As far back as 1996, a French ban on a book about then-President Francois Mitterand was bypassed when an Internet cafe owner scanned it, uploaded the document to the Web and it was mirrored across the globe.

Update: Judge White reversed himself on February 29, 2008. In his order, he voiced frustration that his effort at censorship had proven irrelevant and unenforceable, saying, “We live in an age when people can do some good things and people can do some terrible things without accountability necessarily in a court of law.”



Anonymous robojiannis said...

I totally agree with your points. You can actually access wikileaks via its IP address too.

February 27, 2008 4:19 AM  

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