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Wikileaks gets legal help after domain name deletion

Free speech groups, from the EFF to the California First Amendment Coalition, wants to intervene in a case brought by Swiss bankers who want to keep allegedly confidential documents offline.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
2 min read

Wikileaks.org, a Web site that specializes in posting leaked documents often provided by whistleblowers, had its domain name yanked by a federal judge in California earlier this month.

Now Wikileaks is receiving some independent legal support from free speech groups, including Public Citizen, the California First Amendment Coalition, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Project on Government Oversight, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They--and some media organizations also expected to file a brief--are asking to intervene on Wikileaks' behalf.

These folks are the .50 caliber rifles (or, perhaps the .818 caliber Solothurns) of the modern free speech movement. If anyone can convince a judge to rethink the domain name prohibition, it's probably them.

They stand a good chance. One reason why U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ordered the domain name offline was that Wikileaks had not sent a lawyer to a hearing or responded in any form. After that, a judgment for the plaintffs wasn't exactly a surprise.

Wikileaks, by the way, was sued by a group of Swiss bankers--Bank Julius Baer--who claim in the lawsuit that confidential information is on the site. Wikileaks is still online at the Internet address and a host of mirrors including wikileaks.cx.

White has scheduled a hearing for Friday morning in San Francisco to hear whether to extend the restraining order restricting the distribution of the documents.

The arguments that Public Knowledge Citizen and the CFAC make include:

The court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter...This is a dispute between a Swiss bank and a Swiss citizen who is using an entity with foreign citizenship, Wikileaks, to post documents online. Federal courts are not available for the litigation of such cases.

Plaintiffs have not overcome the First Amendment free speech rights of Wikileaks and its members, not to speak of the First Amendment rights of Public Citizen, the California First Amendment Coalition, and their members, to read the Wikileaks Web site.

And the EFF/ACLU/etc. motion adds:

The permanent injunction has the effect of blocking access by anyone in the United States (and the world) to the Wikileaks Web site through the wikileaks.org domain name. As a result, it impedes access to the entire Wikileaks site, not just the documents that BJB claims are at issue in this litigation.

In other words, it's a bit like Apple not liking CNET News.com's scoop a few years ago (which it was) about the switch to Intel microprocessors--and then trying to yank our domain name through a court injunction. Or AT&T trying to get us taken off the Internet after our story about how its lawyers filed an improperly redacted brief in the litigation over National Security Agency surveillance.

Free speech matters. First principles matter. Wikileaks may not be exactly a news organization in the traditional sense, but precedents set in this case could ripple far beyond Judge White's courtroom in San Francisco.