Civil Liberties

Read the Website a Judge 'Shut Down'


"Judge Shuts Down Web Site Specializing in Leaks," says the headline over the New York Times story. The website, Wikileaks, describes its mission this way:

Wikileaks is developing an uncensorable Wikipedia for untraceable mass document leaking and analysis. Our primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, but we also expect to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations.

As you might guess from the "uncensorable" part and as you can plainly see, Wikileaks is not really shut down. The Times explains:

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.

Domain registrars like Dynadot, and GoDaddy .com provide domain names—the Web addresses users type into browsers—to Web site operators for a monthly fee. Judge White ordered Dynadot to disable the address and "lock" it to prevent the organization from transferring the name to another registrar.

The feebleness of the action suggests that the bank, and the judge, did not understand how the domain system works, or how quickly Web communities will move to counter actions they see as hostile to free speech online.

Still, Judge White tried to shut down the website, in response to complaints from a Cayman Islands bank that a disgruntled former employee had used it to post purloined documents. Which suggests the judge did not understand how freedom of speech works. While the former bank employee may have violated a confidentiality agreement and therefore be subject to civil penalties, the people to whom he passes the information are not bound by any such agreement. In the Pentagon Papers case and other First Amendment decisions, the Supreme Court has taken a dim view of attempts to prevent third-party dissemination of heretofore secret or confidential information, let alone attempts to suppress an entire publication because it carried such information. Wikileaks says White's order "is the equivalent of forcing the Times's printers to print blank pages and its power company to turn off press power."