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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Federal Judge Blocks Whistleblower Website

A federal judge issued an injunction last week ordering a California domain registrar to block access to Wikileaks.org, a website that posts leaked materials, the New York Times reports.  From the Adam Liptak and Brad Stone story:

In a move that legal experts said could present a major test of First Amendment rights in the Internet era, a federal judge in San Francisco on Friday ordered the disabling of a Web site devoted to disclosing confidential information.

The site, Wikileaks.org, invites people to post leaked materials with the goal of discouraging “unethical behavior” by corporations and governments. It has posted documents concerning the rules of engagement for American troops in Iraq, a military manual concerning the operation of prison 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 claimed 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.”

The story goes on to report that the injunction has been largely ineffective because Wikileaks maintains mirror sites that act as insurance against such legal actions.  Wikileaks supporters have apparently been hard at work publicizing these sites (and the article includes helpful links to these mirror sites as well).

Michael Froomkin (Miami), who writes extensively on cyberlaw issues, operates a blog called Discourse.net and there he has blogged frequently on the Wikileaks case (see for instance here, here, and here) since the injunction issued.  He interprets the injunction as a prior restraint on speech, which is presumptively unconstitutional, though he acknowledges that the law regarding free speech and stole materials may be somewhat unsettled.

Incidentally, the judge in the case, Judge Jeffrey S. White of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, has served as an adjunct professor of law at Boalt Hall since 1979.  He teaches Civil Trial Practice.

This is going to be an interesting case to watch.

Craig Estlinbaum

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