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Feb. 26, 2008  

Federal Court Should Not Have Shut Down Wikileaks.org, a Web Site for Whistleblowers  

Court Lacks Jurisdiction in Internet Free Speech Case, Public Citizen Argues

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A federal court in California did not have the jurisdiction to shut down a Web site that allows users to post documents exposing possible corporate or government wrongdoing, Public Citizen and the California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) argued in a brief filed Tuesday in support of the defendants.

A Swiss bank obtained an injunction this month against the California company that registered the domain name for the Web site Wikileaks.org, claiming that one of the bank’s former employees, a Swiss national, posted documents on the site that embarrass the company and harm the privacy interests of its clients. The bank also obtained a temporary restraining order against Wikileaks, barring it from posting the bank documents on the Internet.

Not only does the court order violate the Web site’s right to free speech but it also shows the dangers posed when a court moves too quickly in a First Amendment case, said Paul Alan Levy, a Public Citizen attorney.

In this case, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco does not have jurisdiction because the case involves a dispute between a foreign company and a foreign citizen who posted the documents, Levy said.

“The court’s lack of jurisdiction would have been obvious had the judge been given time to think about the case, instead of being rushed into judgment on less than a week’s notice,” Levy said. “In shutting down this Web site through an unlawful prior restraint, the court has muzzled a very important voice in the fight against corporate and government misdeeds.”

Previous federal rulings also make it clear that Dynadot, a company that registers Internet domain names and hosts Web sites, cannot be sued for the actions of its users, Levy said. By forcing Dynadot to “freeze” the Wikileaks site and URL, the court is violating Wikileaks’ right of free speech by not allowing it to post other documents that are completely unrelated to the plaintiff, Bank Julius Baer.

Many of the documents posted on Wikileaks are aimed at exposing unethical behavior in governments and corporations around the world. According to the site, it “provides a forum for the entire global community to relentlessly examine any document for its credibility, plausibility, veracity and validity. Communities can interpret leaked documents and explain their relevance to the public. If a document comes from the Chinese government, the entire Chinese dissident community and diaspora can freely scrutinize and discuss it; if a document arrives from Iran, the entire Farsi community can analyze it and put it in context.”

Affidavits filed by Public Citizen explain the vital role played by leaked documents in compiling Public Citizen’s authoritative reports on government and corporate wrongdoing.  

Karl Olson of the San Francisco firm of Levy, Ram and Olson is local counsel for Public Citizen and the CFAC. Peter Scheer, executive director of CFAC, is also representing the intervenors.

VISIT the temporary Wikileaks site.

READ the brief filed by Public Citizen and CFAC.

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