In the 1970s, when President Nixon wanted to stop the leaking of embarrassing information, he turned to a special unit known as the "White House Plumbers." Last week, a Swiss bank used a plumber in the form of a U.S. federal court to plug the release of embarrassing documents by Wikileaks, an international anti-corruption Web site where whistleblowers can anonymously post documents.
Wikileaks is openly defying a California federal court, which granted a permanent injunction last Friday ordering the site to shut down. Swiss company Bank Julius Baer sought the injunction to prevent the site from posting what it claims are stolen documents provided by a disgruntled former employee. The Court also ordered Wikileaks to stop displaying or distributing the documents, which allegedly show the bank’s involvement in money laundering and tax evasion in the Cayman Islands. Wikileaks believes the orders violate the First Amendment and vows to appeal.
Wikileaks started in December 2006 as a means of exposing the unethical behavior of corporations and governments, primarily in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. Its first major scoop was the exposure of corruption by former Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi. The site also posts documents relating to the U.S. military's operation of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and the rules of engagement for U.S. troops in Iraq. Since its launch, Wikileaks has received over 1.2 million documents from anonymous sources.
Clearly, the Court and Bank Julius Baer underestimated the ingenuity of the Web development community. As of today, the site is currently inaccessible through its familiar Wikileaks.org address as per the injunction, but it can still be accessed though its IP address as well as through numerous “mirror sites” such as wikileaks.ws, wikileaks.be, and wikileaks.cx. Noted blogs such as TPM Muckraker are also closely following the case.
POGO understands how difficult it can be to obtain information documenting fraud, waste or abuse in the government or the private sector. Although we recognize that certain information needs to be protected from disclosure, a balancing test must be performed that considers the public harm that could occur if such information is not released.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for February 29. Stay tuned.
-- Neil Gordon