San Francisco - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California (ACLU-Northern California) Tuesday filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit where a federal judge ordered the disabling of one of the domain names associated with "Wikileaks," a website designed to give whistleblowers a forum for posting materials of public concern.
In early February, Swiss bank Julius Baer filed suit in federal district court against Wikileaks for hosting 14 allegedly leaked documents regarding personal banking transactions of Julius Baer customers. Also sued was Wikileaks' domain name registrar, Dynadot LLC. On February 15, following a stipulation between Julius Baer and Dynadot, the court issued a permanent injunction, disabling the wikileaks.org domain name and preventing that domain name from being transferred to any other registrar.
"Dynadot's private agreement to disable access to its customer's domain name -- and the court's endorsement of that agreement -- raise serious First Amendment concerns," EFF Senior Staff Attorney Matt Zimmerman. "This unwarranted injunction should remind everyone who hosts critical information on the Web that such information may only remain accessible as long as your service provider or registrar is willing to stand up for you against obviously overreaching legal attacks."
Wikileaks permits third parties to post corporate and government documents that they believe expose wrongdoing. For example, in the past year individuals have posted materials documenting alleged human rights abuses in China and political corruption in Kenya. The court's order effectively prevents readers who are only familiar with Wikileaks through the wikileaks.org domain name from accessing any material on the site.
"Julius Baer's private dispute regarding a former employee's alleged violation of a confidentiality agreement does not warrant this attempt to block access to all material hosted on Wikileaks," said Zimmerman. "The First Amendment rights of readers who have a legitimate interest in the materials posted on the website simply cannot be treated as acceptable collateral damage to the bank's claims."
In the papers filed Tuesday, the intervenors -- including the EFF, the ACLU, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), and Wikileaks user Jordan McCorkle -- asked the court for permission to intervene in order to dissolve the injunction disabling the wikileaks.org domain name. The papers were filed in consultation with and on behalf of the intervenors by Steven Mayer of the law firm of Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin. Other attorneys on the case include Christopher Kao and Shaudy Danaye-Elmi of Howard Rice; Zimmerman, Cindy Cohn, and Kurt Opsahl of EFF; and Aden Fine and Ann Brick of the ACLU and ACLU-Northern California, respectively.
At 9:00 a.m. on Friday, February 29, a federal judge in San Francisco will hear arguments regarding a related issue: whether to extend a temporary restraining order aimed at preventing the further distribution of the 14 disputed Julius Baer documents. A hearing to address Tuesday's motion to intervene and subsequent motion to dissolve the domain name permanent injunction has not yet been scheduled.
For information regarding the February 29 hearing, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation