Thursday, February 21, 2008

Threats to the Net

Within the past couple of days, two news items portend an ominous trend toward restricting our access to information on the Internet.

The first is a federal judge's order shutting down Wikileaks, a whistleblower website that enables the anonymous leaking of confidential government and corporate documents., the best source of information about threats to the Net, has posted articles here and here.

Even The New York Times editors weighed in on the closing of Wikileaks this morning in "Stifling Online Speech": “A federal judge last week ordered the disabling of, a muckraking Web site. That stifles important speech and violates the First Amendment. It should be reversed, and Wikileaks should be allowed to resume operations….”

“Julius Baer Bank and Trust, a Cayman Islands branch of a Swiss bank, sued Wikileaks charging that it had illegally posted documents stolen by a former employee. The site said the documents ‘allegedly reveal secret Julius Baer trust structures’ for money laundering, tax evasion and other misdeeds.

“Federal District Court Judge Jeffrey White ordered Wikileaks’s domain name registrar to disable its Web address. That was akin to shutting down a newspaper because of objections to one article. The First Amendment requires the government to act only in the most dire circumstances when it regulates free expression.” [emphasis mine]

The second article in today’s Washington Post, "Army Blocks Public's Access to Documents in Web-Based Library" is equally alarming. “ The Army has shut down public access to the largest online collection of its doctrinal publications, a move criticized by open-government advocates as unnecessary secrecy by a runaway bureaucracy.

“Army officials moved the Reimer Digital Library behind a password-protected firewall on Feb. 6, restricting access to an electronic trove that is popular with researchers for its wealth of field and technical manuals and documents on military operations, education, training and technology. All are unclassified, and most already are approved for public release…

"'All of this stuff had been specifically approved for public release,' Aftergood [a member of the public who used the digital library] said. 'I think it's a case of bureaucracy run amok. And it's a familiar impulse to secrecy that needs to be challenged at every turn....'

"Army officials said yesterday that they were compelled to limit access to the Reimer library site to comply with Department of Defense policies that call for tightening the security of military Web sites and to keep better track internally of who is accessing them and why….

"'They can configure Army Web sites however they like,' Aftergood said. 'What they cannot do is to withhold information from the public that is subject to release under the FOIA. . . . What we really want to do is to persuade them to adopt a reasonable policy of openness…..'"

(Wikileak hourglass: Ivo)

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