A federal court on Friday issued an injunction (pdf) disabling the internet domain name of Wikileaks.org, the anti-censorship web site devoted to publication of leaks and other unauthorized disclosures of information.
The move followed a complaint by Bank Julius Baer, a Swiss bank, that Wikileaks had published confidential bank records that are protected by law. The offending documents were itemized in a temporary restraining order (pdf) also issued by the court on February 15.
Those documents are whistleblower records that reveal “trust structures allegedly used for tax evasion, asset hiding and money laundering by the ultra rich,” according to Wikileak’s Julian Assange, who protested what he said was an “unconstitutional” blockage of the wikileaks domain name.
Wikileaks is intended to provide “an uncensorable system for untraceable mass document leaking and public analysis,” according to the web site, and its often controversial contents have been mirrored by dozens of other sites around the world, which remain operational.
“Anti-censorship servers operating in foreign jurisdictions have kicked in successfully,” wrote Mr. Assange after the court issued its order, “but ‘wikileaks.org’ has been forcibly deleted from the domain name system.”
Judge Jeffrey S. White of the Northern District of California scheduled a hearing on the matter for February 29.
It is too early to say who has won or lost more in this confrontation. Wikileaks has demonstrated the willingness and the ability to sustain a robust publication capability in defiance of legal authority, though it may have lost its domain name for the foreseeable future. Bank Julius Baer, whom most people would have never heard of, will now be permanently linked in many minds with vague allegations of financial misconduct.
But the disclosure restrictions that wikileaks managed to defeat were not exactly those of a tyrannical government bent on censorship. They were banking secrecy laws that protect ordinary people as well as corporate malefactors. And by providing the occasion for the court’s extraordinary action, Wikileaks has helped set an unfortunate precedent that may make the next court injunction against a public web site that much easier to obtain.