Earlier today Amazon shut down the main WikiLeaks site devoted to the leaked diplomatic cables, making it unavailable in the U.S. and Europe (though it now appears the site is back up). Of course, the sites have been mirrored all over the world, so the data is still out there, as are innumerable news stories on the cables.
How did Amazon, best known for online retail, become involved in “cablegate”? The e-commmerce giant doesn’t have specific ties to WikiLeaks or its founder Julian Assange, but through Amazon.com Inc., it did provide the server space to host the site. Availability of cablegate.wikileaks.org has been spotty since Sunday, when, as The Guardian reports, the Sweden-based Bahnhof servers “started to come under a series of internet-based attacks by unknown hackers. WikiLeaks dealt with the attacks in part by moving to servers run by Amazon Web Services, which is self-service.” In the meantime, WikiLeaks has gone back to using the Swedish provider to host the cable-related pages. It’s unclear whether WikiLeaks left Amazon of its own accord, was asked to leave, or was forcibly shut down.
Though Amazon hasn’t been very forthcoming with their reasons for pulling the site, their actions probably come as a response to calls made by Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, for U.S. companies to boycott WikiLeaks. Some politicians like Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) are calling for WikiLeaks to be listed as a terrorist organization, while others are dismissive of the site. “I’m not entirely sure why we care about the opinion of one guy with one website,” said Robert Gibbs, White House Press Secretary. “Our foreign policy and the interests of this country are far stronger than his one website.”
So did the government get Amazon to shut down the WikiLeaks site, or was it the corporation’s independent decision? The pentagon has not been willing to launch any cyberattacks against the site directly, saying that the embarrassing nature of the leaked cables isn’t a compelling enough reason, so they probably did not take similar offensive actions against Amazon. As Read Write Cloud reports, “a DOS attack on Wikileaks could affect other sites hosted on the same servers, so it’s possible Amazon.com dropped Wikileaks [to protect other sites].” This would seem to indicate that Amazon wants to avoid any liability with regards to customer sites damaged by any attacks on WikiLeaks. Then again, since the WikiLeaks has “drawn the ire of the United States government, and congressional Republicans are calling on Wikileaks figurehead Julian Assange to be be prosecuted for espionage, it’s possible that Amazon.com dropped the site out of concern for its [WikiLeaks’] content.”
In our previous post we covered some of the basic legal issues related to retaliation against WikiLeaks, founder and Australian national Julian Assange, and Pcf. Bradley Manning who is suspected of having stolen the cables. For more legal perspective, you may be interested in reading The Guardian’s take on it, as well as The New York Times, NPR, and legal blogs like Above the Law.
- Is WikiLeaks Illegal? (legallyeasy.rocketlawyer.com)
- WikiLeaks Down? CableGate Site OFFLINE After Days Of Attacks (huffingtonpost.com)
- Amazon Pulls Hosting Services For WikiLeaks (techcrunch.com)