Private Power and New Media: The Case of the Corporate Suppression of WikiLeaks and its Implications for the Exercise of Fundamental Rights on the Internet

Private Power and New Media: The Case of the Corporate Suppression of WikiLeaks and its Implications for the Exercise of Fundamental Rights on the Internet

Angela Daly (European University Institute, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0891-7.ch007
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Abstract

The focus of this chapter will be the recent conduct of various corporations in withdrawing Internet services provided to information portal WikiLeaks in light of the controversy surrounding WikiLeaks’ publishing classified documents of correspondence between the US State Department and its diplomatic missions around the world in late 2010. The implications for freedom of expression (especially the right to access information) on the Internet will be examined in the wake of WikiLeaks, particularly in the context of the infringer being a private actor, and one comprising a mono- or oligopoly. The motivation of these private actors in contributing to the suppression of WikiLeaks will be assessed to examine whether it constitutes an example of Birnhack and Elkin-Koren’s “invisible handshake,” i.e. the “emerging collaboration” between the state and multinational corporations on the Internet that they posit is producing “the ultimate threat.” The legal recourse open to WikiLeaks and its users for the infringement of fundamental rights will be examined, especially the First Amendment to the US Constitution since the geographic location for these events has mostly been the USA. Finally, the postscript to the WikiLeaks controversy will be considered: the “information warfare” conducted by hackers will be examined to determine whether the exercise of power of these Internet corporations in a way which infringes fundamental rights can be checked by technological means, and whether hackers are indeed the true electronic defenders of freedom of expression.
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The Corporate Response To Wikileaks

Various corporate entities with different links to WikiLeaks stopped providing services to the organisation subsequent to the release of the US Embassy cables. More precise details of these instances are provided below.

Amazon.com

Amazon.com, the online company which started life selling books, has diversified into various other markets, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) which offers remote computing services over the Internet for other websites or client-based applications. WikiLeaks' website was being hosted by Amazon.com via these services prior to the US embassy cables controversy, yet on 1 December 2010, Amazon.com ceased to host the site. At first, Amazon.com did not comment on this cessation of service, but it subsequently issued a statement denying that either the government prompted them to stop hosting the site, or that mass-scale DDOS attacks prompted the website being taken off their servers. The company gave the reason for its actions as being that WikiLeaks violated AWS's terms of service, in particular the term stipulating that WikiLeaks must have all of the rights over the content posted online and that the use of this content must not cause injury to any person or entity. Amazon.com stated that it was 'clear' that WikiLeaks did not own or control all these rights over this content, and that it was 'not credible' that WikiLeaks could not have redacted the information in a way to ensure that 'innocent people' were not put in 'jeopardy.’

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