Rights groups seek court OK to intervene in Wikileaks case

Privacy and civil rights advocates say shutdown of whistle-blower site violates US First Amendment

A growing number of privacy and civil rights advocates are calling on a US federal court to reconsider its decision two weeks ago ordering the controversial Wikileaks.org whistleblower Web site to be disabled.

In a motion filed Wednesday in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and a Wikileaks user asked the court for permission to intervene in the case.

In a 20-page brief, the groups said they were asking to intervene in a bid asking the court to dissolve its permanent injunction disabling the Wikileaks.org Web site. They claimed that the court's action violated their First Amendment right to access the contents of the Wikileaks Web site.

"The First Amendment encompasses the right to receive information and ideas," the groups said in the brief. "The documents and materials posted on the Wikileaks website concern matters of great public interest" which each of the parties filing the motion had regularly accessed, they said.

Expressing similar support was Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society's Citizen Media Law Project (CMLP). On Wednesday the center filed a brief opposing the court's injunctions against Wikileaks and its domain registrar Dynadot. The amici curiae (friend of the court) brief, which was developed in collaboration with several media and public interest organizations, asked the court to take back its decision and cited First Amendment concerns.

"Under established First Amendment law, prior restraints, if constitutional at all, are permissible only in the most extraordinary circumstances," David Ardia, director of the CMLP said in a statement. "In this case, you have court orders that effectively shut down a website that has been at the forefront of exposing corruption in governments and corporations around the world," he said.

The groundswell of support for Wikileaks comes in the wake of two injunctions issued by US District Court Judge Jeffrey White on February 15. The injunctions were in response to a lawsuit filed by the Julius Baer Group, a Swiss bank that, according to documents on Wikileaks, was involved in offshore money laundering and tax evasion in the Cayman Islands for customers in several countries, including the US.

Wikileaks claimed the documents had been leaked by a bank employee. In its complaint, the Swiss bank claimed that Wikileaks published hundreds of illegally obtained documents and confidential and copyrighted information belonging to the bank. The bank sued both Wikileaks and its domain registrar Dynadot.

In response, White issued a permanent injunction ordering Dynadot to immediately disable the wikileaks.org domain name and lock it to prevent the domain from being transferred to another registrar. The injunction also required Dynadot to immediately remove all DNS hosting records for the wikileaks.org domain name. The court asked Dynadot to prevent the domain name from resolving to the wikileaks Web site or any other Web site or server "other than a blank park page."

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