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Old 2nd March 2008, 01:50 AM
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Judge Reverses His Order Disabling Web Site

Judge Reverses His Order Disabling Web Site
Published: March 1, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge on Friday withdrew his earlier order disabling a Web site that allows the anonymous posting of documents to discourage unethical behavior in governments and corporations.

Bits: Wikileaks Ruling Leaves Big Questions Unanswered (March 1, 2008)

On Feb. 15, the judge, Jeffrey S. White of Federal District Court in San Francisco, ordered the American address of the site,, to be disabled at the request of Bank Julius Baer & Company, a Swiss banking company, and its Cayman Islands subsidiary. They charged that Wikileaks had posted confidential, personally identifiable account information on some of the bank’s customers.

The judge’s action drew criticism — and court filings — from numerous organizations concerned that the order violated the First Amendment protection of free speech. Because Wikileaks operates sites, like, in other countries, the documents were and are still widely available, both in the United States and elsewhere.

In reversing himself at a hearing here on Friday, Judge White acknowledged that the bank’s request posed serious First Amendment questions and might constitute unjustified prior restraint. He also appeared visibly frustrated that technology might have outrun the law and that, as a result, the court might not be able to rein in information once it had been disclosed online.

“We live in an age,” Judge White said, “when people can do some good things and people can do some terrible things without accountability necessarily in a court of law.”

Critics of Judge White’s previous order had said one problem was its breadth: It obstructed access to documents beyond those that the bank said contained confidential information. But he noted that as a practical matter, no ruling might achieve what the bank wanted.

Garret D. Murai, a lawyer for Dynadot, the registrar that provided the Wikileaks domain name, said after the hearing that the domain name would probably be re-enabled within an hour of the judge’s issuing a written order outlining his decision. By Friday evening, the site was apparently working again.

William J. Briggs II, a lawyer representing the bank, said the decision “abdicated federal judicial authority to the Internet.”

“The court is telling you, you can’t rein this in,” he added, “and I think that’s a sad commentary.”

More than a dozen lawyers at the hearing represented organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and various media companies. A striking absence throughout the proceeding was of anyone claiming to represent Wikileaks.

A lawyer appeared in court representing the owner of the domain name, John Shipton, an Australian living in Kenya. But the lawyer emphasized that he did not speak for the site, and no other lawyer claimed to speak for it.

Lawyers and the judge had difficulty grappling with the nature of Wikileaks and questioned whether it could be treated like a corporation or other, more traditional legal entity that could be brought into court.

Judge White did not go so far as to decide that the federal courts had no jurisdiction over the case at all, as argued by Public Citizen and the California First Amendment Coalition. He said he hoped that lawyers for the plaintiffs would address that question in later proceedings.
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