By Elana Schor
The US court order shutting down the website Wikileaks today appeared to backfire on the Swiss bank that sought the legal action, as bloggers and other fans of the site gave new life to leaked documents the bank was working to suppress.
In addition to international Wikileaks versions that were unaffected by the shutdown order, “mirror” copies of the website sprouted like weeds thanks to supporters of its mission. Run anonymously, Wikileaks aims to publish sensitive documents that often prove incriminating for governments and corporations.
Swiss-based Bank Julius Baer obtained the order on Friday to stop Wikileaks from disseminating internal company documents that purported to show the bank’s Cayman Islands branch involved in money laundering and tax evasion.
But the overwhelming online response to Wikileaks’s demise made the bank – and the documents themselves – the talk of the internet.
“Clearly, the court and Bank Julius Baer underestimated the ingenuity of the web development community,” the whistleblower protection group Project on Government Oversight wrote on its blog.
David Ardia, director of the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard University, said the situation had “gone 180 degrees wrong for the bank”.
“What this is done is, it’s really struck a chord for publishers, both online and offline,” Ardia said. “If a federal judge in California can, on the arguments of one party, order that an entire website be taken down, that’s a very scary proposition. What if these documents weren’t on Wikileaks [but] they were on YouTube, MySpace or Facebook?”
US district court judge Jeffrey White, appointed in 2002 by George Bush, ordered the San Francisco-based web server for Wikileaks to block the domain name during an “ex parte” hearing, with the website not represented by counsel. The web server company, Dynadot, said today that it is remaining neutral on the bank’s lawsuit.
“However, if Julius Baer is concerned with the posting of its confidential documents on the wikileaks.org web site, it could have sought a more narrow remedy than seeking to have the entire wikileaks.org web site shut down,” Kathryn Chow-Han, in-house counsel for Dynadot, said in a statement.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for February 29, although Ardia said Wikileaks could move for an earlier court date after presenting new legal representation. The bank has retained Los Angeles lawyers Lavely & Singer, the favourite firm for celebrities aiming to quash publication of unwelcome photographs.