Free Speech Has A Number: 88.80.13.160

Wikileaks and the Zurich-based Bank Julia Baer; whistleblower case; U.S. district court judge orders Wikileaks domain host to block site
Wikileaks/Keystone, A. Della Bella
The whistleblower site Wikileaks.org has found itself in the center of a storm of protest by Internet activists and libertarians over a court-ordered shutdown.

"Shutdown" isn't quite the word, and therein lies the unique situation in which the Web site currently exists.

Wikileaks claims to have posted 1.2 million leaked government and corporate documents that it says expose unethical behavior, including a 2003 operation manual for the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Last week, under pressure from a Swiss bank which said a disgruntled ex-employee had posted stolen documents on the site, Wikileak's San Mateo, Calif.-based hosting company, Dynadot, agreed to turn off the site and prevent Wikileaks from transferring its domain name to another host.

The Zurich-based Bank Julius Baer & Co. claimed in court papers that a former executive stole the documents, and in some cases altered some of them, though it gave no details. It said the documents were illegally posted to www.wikileaks.org.

The papers allegedly point to money laundering and tax evasion schemes at the bank's Cayman Islands branch. According to Wikileaks, they refer to "extremely wealthy and in some cases, politically sensitive" clients from the U.S., Europe, China and South America.

The next day, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White issued a series of rulings demanding Dynadot shut down Wikileaks. He also ordered Dynadot to disable Wikileak's Web address ("Oops! We can't find the webpage you're looking for"), and prevent the transfer of the domain name to another registrar.

Most chillingly, the judge ordered Dynadot to turn over the "IP addresses and associated data used by any person, other than Dynadot, who accessed the account for the domain name" - in effect, parting the curtain behind which anonymous whistleblowers have been passing documents.

Wikileaks said in a statement that shutting down the entire Web site - instead of narrowly ordering the removal of the disputed materials - amounts to unconstitutional "prior restraint" by the government of an entire publishing organization.

"This is akin to seizing all the copies of The New York Times, locking the doors and ordering the landlords not to let anyone back in the building," said Julie Turner, a Palo Alto Internet attorney who briefly represented Wikileaks (but not during last week's hearing in front of White). Wikileaks was not represented at that hearing.

Wikileaks vowed to continue publishing the bank's documents on mirror sites in other countries, such as England (Wikileaks.org.uk), Belgium (Wikileaks.be) and Germany (Wikileaks.de).

David Ardia, an Internet speech expert at Harvard Law School, said a court has never before ordered an entire Web site shut down over a document dispute. He said it struck a nerve.

"This is a prior restraint in the most extreme fashion," Ardia said. "This is a judge who doesn't have a good understanding of the Internet."

Wikileaks' Web site says it was launched by Chinese dissidents, journalists and others, but it's unclear where the organization is based.

"The order is clearly unconstitutional and exceeds its jurisdiction," Wikileaks spokesman Julian Assange said in the e-mail statement issued from Paris on Monday. "Wikileaks will keep on publishing. In fact, given the level of suppression involved in this case, Wikileaks will step up publication of documents pertaining to illegal or unethical banking practices."

The judge's ruling has galvanized Web sentiment in a way that Bank Julius Baer probably didn't anticipate.

Although the domain name is disabled, an online movement has begun to publicize and link to the IP address directly, with more and more blogs and Web sites linking to 88.80.13.160, where Wikileaks' files can be found, hosted by a Stockholm, Sweden firm called PRQ Inet.

Somewhat ominously, but not necessarily connected, the hosting company was hit by a denial of service attack on Saturday, and a fire briefly took the servers offline.

The judge has scheduled more arguments on the issue for Feb. 29.