Wikileaks' publishing of US cables not illegal: AFP

Federal government dealt major blow in attempts to demonise Wikileaks and founder, Julian Assange

The Federal Government has been dealt a major blow with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) stating that it has found that the publishing of US embassy cables containing classified information on the Wikileaks website has breached no domestic law.

In a statement the AFP said it had been asked by the Attorney-General’s Department on 30 November to examine the matter and determine whether an official investigation was warranted.

“The AFP has completed its evaluation of the material available and has not established the existence of any criminal offences where Australia would have jurisdiction,” the statement reads.

The AFP did offer the government the caveat that where additional cables were published and criminal offences were suspected, “these matters should be referred to the AFP for evaluation”.

The finding follows a ruling by London's High Court that Assange be freed if he posts £240,000 ($378,000) in bail, rejecting prosecutors' appeal that he be imprisoned pending a January extradition hearing.

It is also is a major blow to the Federal Government which has argued that both the initial leaking of classified documents and their subsequent distribution by the controversial website were illegal.

"The unauthorised obtaining of the information may well be an offence," Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, said in early December.

"The distribution of that information I would think would have a solid argument, again without knowing the United States law, would be an offence.

"Certainly to release that sort of information by an officer of the commonwealth, if it were Australian material, would in my view certainly involve criminality."

Australia's main media players found the Federal Government's reaction to the release of diplomatic correspondence by the WikiLeaks website "deeply troubling", prompting an open letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard in support of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.

"The volume of the leaks is unprecedented, yet the leaking and publication of diplomatic correspondence is not new," the letter, initiated by the Walkley Foundation, states.

Despite threats from Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, that Assange may have his Australian passport cancelled, foreign affairs minister Kevin Rudd has defended the legal rights of Assange.

In mid-December Rudd said he was prepared to intervene to have a laptop computer provided for Assange in London's Wandsworth prison to help the Australian prepare his defence and obtain bail at his appearance at Westminster Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

Follow Tim Lohman on Twitter: @TLohman

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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