Feds Move to Prevent Future Leaks of Official Secrets on U.S. Web Services

By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2010-12-04

Feds Move to Prevent Future Leaks of Official Secrets on U.S. Web Services

With government pressure squeezing the WikiLeaks site off U.S.-based Web hosting services, federal officials are turning their attention to preventing  future embarrassing leaks. U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman issued a statement on Dec. 2 that he will ask what "Web service providers will do in the future to ensure that their services are not used to distribute stolen, classified information."  

WikiLeaks, which has published thousands of once-secret diplomatic messages that have embarrassed the U.S. government as well as a number of its allies, is relying on a few DNS service providers in Europe to try to stay in business. WikiLeaks has also been the target of repeated DoS (Denial of Service) attacks that keep people from accessing the site.  

Lieberman's staffers contacted Amazon.com because it was hosting WikiLeaks. Shortly afterward, WikiLeaks said on Twitter that Amazon had "ousted" the site. Amazon issued a statement denying that the Connecticut Senator's office had anything to do with the decision, but because WikiLeaks violated the terms of service require organization that use its hosting service to either own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content and that use of the content "will not cause injury to any person or entity." 

"It's clear that WikiLeaks doesn't own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content. Further, it is not credible that the extraordinary volume of 250,000 classified documents that WikiLeaks is publishing could have been carefully redacted in such a way as to ensure that they weren't putting innocent people in jeopardy," wrote Amazon. 

Lieberman's comments are already making companies nervous. Tableau Software, a data visualization site, dropped WikiLeaks' data in response to Lieberman. "Our terms of service require that people using Tableau Public do not upload, post, e-mail, transmit or otherwise make available any content that they do not have the right to make available," said Tableau on its blog. 

"This will inevitably be met with mixed reaction. However, our terms of service were created to ensure responsible use of data," the company said. 

WikiLeaks was using Tableau Public to create ways to browse the cables by subject, location and other criteria.  

Lieberman has also introduced a bill, the Shield Act, that would make it a federal crime for anyone to publish the name of a U.S. intelligence source. Leaking such information in the first place is already a crime, so the measure is aimed squarely at publishers. 

Federal Web Users Warned Away from WikiLeaks Content


Internet advocates and First Amendment activists were appalled. "The first serious infowar is now engaged. The field of battle is WikiLeaks. You are the troops," tweeted Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow. 

"The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression against government encroachment-but that doesn't help if the censorship doesn't come from the government," the EFF's Rainey Reitman wrote on the foundation's blog. EFF acknowledged that Amazon has its "own First Amendment right" to choose whether or not to host WikiLeaks, but said it was "unfortunate" that the company decided not to. 

"Amazon ran away with its tail between its legs," wrote Reitman. 

The United States has what Attorney General Eric Holder calls "an active, ongoing, criminal investigation" into WikiLeaks' release of the diplomatic cables. Holder said this week that the release jeopardized national security, diplomatic efforts and U.S. relationships around the world, even though Robert Gates had downplayed the incident. 

The government can't take official action to silence WikiLeaks' ongoing publications as it would be an unconstitutional prior restraint, or censorship of speech, said the EFF. 

The U.S. government is also trying to get people to not read WikiLeaks, as it tries to shut it down. The Office of Management and Budget's general counsel today directed all federal agencies to "safeguard classified information" by barring employees from accessing the WikiLeaks Website, according to an e-mail obtained by Talking Points Memo. 

The Library of Congress blocked the site from all its user and employee computer terminals, according to TPM. The site also claims that the State Department has warned prospective hires that writing about WikiLeaks on Twitter or Facebook could cost them that job. According to Gawker, military installations in Iraq are trying to keep soldiers from reading about WikiLeaks by putting up a warning page saying accessing the page was against the law. 

"This page simply warns the user that the Website they are about to view may contain classified documents and that such documents should not be viewed, downloaded or distributed on NIPR computers," a spokesperson for the U.S. forces in Iraq said, according to Gawker. There is apparently a button at the bottom of the warning page that then allows the user to go to the Website. 

Not everyone is trying to shut down WikiLeaks. A Republican Congressman from Texas, Ron Paul, posted on Twitter, "Re: WikiLeaks-In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble."

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