U.S. Court Shuts Down Whistleblower Site

February 18, 2008 12:54 pm

From the BBC:

Wikileaks.org, as it is known, was cut off from the internet following a California court ruling, the site says. The case was brought by a Swiss bank after “several hundred” documents were posted about its offshore activities.

Other versions of the pages, hosted in countries such as Belgium and India, can still be accessed.

However, the main site was taken offline after the court ordered that Dynadot, which controls the site’s domain name, should remove all traces of wikileak from its servers.

Wikileaks has been the source for a number of revelatory documents, including the U.S. military’s manual for Gitmo and the rules of engagement for U.S. troops in Iraq.

But see it for yourself, wikileaks.org is indeed out of commission. The Belgian wikileaks, however, is still up.

As for why this California judge ordered the whole site taken down over a few documents, that’s not clear. As the BBC reports, “The case was brought by lawyers working for the Swiss banking group Julius Baer. It concerned several documents posted on the site which allegedly reveal that the bank was involved with money laundering and tax evasion.” Why didn’t the judge just didn’t order the documents taken down instead of the whole site? We hope to get some expert guidance on the question.

Update: Just spoke with Steve Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy, who offered a clue. “My hunch is that the action was dictated by the practical options. [The judge and Julius Baer] don’t know who wikileaks.org is or who the responsible parties are upon whom a court order could be served. What they did know was the U.S. based internet service provider.” So they got the ISP to shut the site down. “If they had known who to serve the order to – who represents Wikileaks –, then they might have chosen a more targeted action.” Nevertheless, he thought the judge’s move was “extraordinary,” based as it was on the bank’s contention that these were legally protected documents.

A large number of mirror sites have sprung up to counter the judge’s move — sites mirroring not only wikileaks, but also the Julius Baer documents at issue.

“Wikileaks had boasted that they were impervious to censorship,” Aftergood told me. “This is the most serious test they’ve faced in their year-long existence. They may lose their current website, but dozens of mirrors around the world will endure. And I expect they will regroup.”

Update: Here’s the judge’s order. And here’s the motion for injunction filed by Julius Baer.

The court documents show that no lawyer has stepped forward to defend Wikileaks in the case, and that Wikileaks did not respond to Julius Baer’s legal filings, including the original complaint, which was filed February 8th.

Update: The link to the judge’s order has been fixed. Thanks to commenter rincewind below.

Update: Wired has a good tick-tock of the case — and an explanation for why Wikileaks does not have a lawyer of record in the case and hasn’t yet contested the suit in court. Also, Wikileaks has posted some of its correspondence with lawyers for Julius Baer.

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