Privacy, civil rights advocates castigate Wikileaks ruling

Prior restraint -- shades of the Pentagon Papers?

Privacy and civil rights advocates are expressing their dismay over a pair of decisions made by a California District Court judge last week to shut down, a controversial Web site that allows whistle-blowers to anonymously post corporate and government documents online.

Several called the decision unprecedented and a violation of Wikileaks' First Amendment rights. Others said the rulings were an unnecessarily provocative action that would do little to curtail the publishing activities of Wikileaks, which is mirrored on servers in several countries.

"I would say my initial reaction is shock that any judge or district court would issue an injunction that would take an entire site down" because it published documents that someone else claimed it shouldn't have, said David Ardia, director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard Law School. "It's contrary to any interpretation of First Amendment law."

The district court's Feb. 15 rulings were in response to a lawsuit filed by the Julius Baer Group, a Swiss bank that, according to documents on Wikileaks, was involved in offshore money laundering and tax evasion in the Cayman Islands for customers in several countries, including the U.S. In its complaint, the Swiss bank claimed that Wikileaks had published hundreds of illegally obtained confidential and copyrighted information belonging to the bank.

In response to the lawsuit, California District Court Judge Jeffrey White last week issued two separate rulings. One of them was a permanent injunction ordering Wiklileaks' domain registrar, Dynadot LLC, to immediately disable the domain name and to lock it so it prevents the domain from being transferred to another registrar.

The injunction also required Dynadot to immediately clear and remove all DNS hosting records for the domain name. The court asked Dynadot to prevent the domain name from resolving to the Web site or any other Web site or server "other than a blank park page." In addition, Dynadot was asked to turn over all administrative and account records associated with the site to the court.

Apart from the permanent injunction, Judge White also issued what was labeled as an amended temporary restraining order that essentially forbade Wikileaks from displaying, posting, publishing or distributing any material pertaining to the bank on any site that it directly owned or had any control over.

The order instructed Wikileaks to ensure that all of the bank's information was removed from all Web sites it owned or controlled, to disable links to the material on such sites and to provide the court with proof that it had complied with the orders. Wikileaks was also asked to immediately provide the plaintiff's council with the name and full contact information of all their DNS hosting services, ISPs, domain registrars, Web site operators and host service providers.

The court's orders resulted in the URL being promptly scrubbed from the Internet. But as of late Tuesday, the site remained accessible by typing in its IP numbers ( Wikileaks, which touts itself as an "uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking and public analysis," was also available via numerous mirror sites in several countries.

In what appeared to be a hastily prepared statement on its site, Wikileaks said it had been offered little to no notice of the ex parte hearing and was not represented in court when the decisions were handed out.

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