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Amazon: U.S. played no role in WikiLeaks disconnect

Online retailer says decision to terminate its hosting relationship with the controversial site was based on terms of service violations and safety concerns.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
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Steven Musil
3 min read

Amazon denied today that government pressure played any role in its decision earlier this week to stop hosting WikiLeaks' content.

In a blog post, the online retailer said it terminated its hosting relationship with the controversial site because it became clear that WikiLeaks was violating Amazon's terms of service. That violation occurred, Amazon said, because WikiLeaks did not control all of the rights related to the classified government cables it posted this week. The e-tail giant's post also said it doubted the documents had been carefully redacted as promised and innocent lives could be put at risk as a result:

Amazon Web Services (AWS) rents computer infrastructure on a self-service basis. AWS does not pre-screen its customers, but it does have terms of service that must be followed. WikiLeaks was not following them. There were several parts they were violating. For example, our terms of service state that "you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content...that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity."

It's clear that WikiLeaks doesn't own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content. Further, it is not credible that the extraordinary volume of 250,000 classified documents that WikiLeaks is publishing could have been carefully redacted in such a way as to ensure that they weren't putting innocent people in jeopardy. Human rights organizations have in fact written to WikiLeaks asking them to exercise caution and not release the names or identities of human rights defenders who might be persecuted by their governments.

We've been running AWS for over four years and have hundreds of thousands of customers storing all kinds of data on AWS. Some of this data is controversial, and that's perfectly fine. But, when companies or people go about securing and storing large quantities of data that isn't rightfully theirs, and publishing this data without ensuring it won't injure others, it's a violation of our terms of service, and folks need to go operate elsewhere.

Amazon also denied that the termination decision was based on its being subjected to massive distributed-denial-of-service attacks (DDoS) this week, as WikiLeaks' site was also reported to have endured.

"There were indeed large-scale DDoS attacks, but they were successfully defended against," Amazon said.

Amazon cut off WikiLeaks yesterday, just days after the whistleblowing site released some 250,000 State Department diplomatic cables, resulting in what one German newspaper called "nothing short of a political meltdown for U.S. foreign policy." The White House has repeatedly condemned WikiLeaks for the move, saying the release of sensitive documents could put lives at risk around the world.

The latest release of documents has some politicians calling for the site to be branded a terrorist group, putting it in the same category as al-Qaeda. Sen. Joseph Lieberman (Ind.-Conn.), who is chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent inquiries to Amazon on Tuesday, asking it to explain the company's relationship with WikiLeaks.

Lieberman issued a statement yesterday applauding the move to cut off WikiLeaks, but Amazon said reports that the senator's inquiries influenced its decision were "inaccurate."