WikiLeaks’ ‘Cablegate’ leaks were hosted on Amazon.com servers until 1 December when, The Guardian (UK) reports, Amazon bowed to political pressure and ceased hosting the main wikileaks.org site and the cablegate.wikileaks.org subdomain. The Guardian article sounds like a bit of a beat-up. In the past, WikiLeaks have used the Swedish-based hosting service PeRiQuito AB (PRQ). PRQ keeps a minimum of information about its clients and is protected by Sweden’s liberal media laws. PRQ is the natural choice for groups whose activities, if not illegal in other countries as is the case with its most infamous client The Pirate Bay, inhabit a legal grey area. Therefore, if WikiLeaks used Amazon’s hosting services it may have been in anticipation of a day like 1 December.
Amazon’s termination of its contract with WikiLeaks may not be so surprising. What is surprising is the response to WikiLeaks Editor in Chief Julian Assange’s tweet claiming that if Amazon is “so uncomfortable with the first amendment, they should get out of the business of selling books”. The Guardian article notes the response from ‘constitutional lawyers’, whomever they may be:
Although there are echoes of the censorship row between Google and China earlier this year, constitutional lawyers insisted it was not a first amendment issue because Amazon is a private company, free to make its own decisions.
This is also the response from lawyer Kevin Bankston at Electronic Frontiers Foundation (EFF), a libertarian group aiming to keep the Internet open. He argued that Amazon’s actions were disappointing but not a breach of the first amendment. Fair to say that both Democrats and Republicans agree with Kevin’s second point. The analysis of the constitutionality of Amazon’s actions may be correct, but its implications are troubling.