Last week a federal judge ordered a Web site that posts leaked material to disable itself entirely before coming back to say it only needed to stop posting certain documents related to a case brought by a Cayman Islands bank.
Judge Jeffrey S. White of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco granted a permanent injunction Friday requiring the Internet site Wikileaks — whose mission is to post confidential documents to discourage "unethical behavior" — to disable its Wikileaks.org domain name. A later order Friday, which White called an "amended temporary restraining order" seemed to narrow the injunction and prevented the site from distributing only certain bank documents. The "leaks" at issue are related to the litigation brought by Julius Baer Bank and Trust against Wikileaks for publishing documents, it alleges, were stolen by an former employee and "reveal secret Julius Baer trust structures used for asset hiding, money laundering and tax evasion."
Wikileaks compared the injunction to the 1971 Pentagon Papers Supreme Court case in which the federal government sought to prevent publication of Vietnam War documents. The original domain name has been taken down, per White’s initial injunction, but the site continues to operate through its Internet protocol address and through sites run by Wikileaks in other countries.
Though the later order may narrow the category of the materials Wikileaks is prohibited from disclosing, the injunction shutting down the entire Wikileaks site is surely unconstitutional. Further, White ordered the site disabled without any Wikileaks representative present at the hearing — the group says it received only e-mail notice within hours of the hearing. Wikileaks has retained six pro bono attorneys in San Francisco to aid in its appeal of the orders. Let’s hope the 9th Circuit has read the U.S. Constitution lately and can undo this Wiki-mess.