In a move sure to be welcomed by privacy and civil rights advocates, a California District Court judge on Friday lifted a previous permanent injunction that he had issued two weeks ago to disable the controversial Wikileaks.org whistleblower Web site.
Judge Jeffrey White of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco also declined to extend a temporary restraining order he had issued on Jan 15 against Wikileaks. That order prohibited Wikileaks from displaying, posting, publishing, or distributing material that a Swiss bank, which had filed a lawsuit against Wikileaks, had claimed were illegally obtained and defamatory.
[ Learn more on the privacy implications for the Web of the Wikileaks case ]
The wikileaks.org domain was reactivated today as a result of the decision.
Judge White cited two main reasons for rescinding his previous injunctions. In a seven-page ruling, the judge noted that both the plaintiff in the case and the owner of the Wikileaks.org domain name were foreign entities and therefore outside the court's jurisdiction. Although there is no firm evidence of the citizenship of the owner of the wikileaks.org domain name, "counsel for the [owner] represented that the owner of the domain name wikileaks.org is a citizen of Australia and a resident of Kenya," the judge noted in his ruling. As a result the "Court is concerned that it may well lack subject matter jurisdiction over this matter in its entirety," Judge White noted in his ruling.
He also noted that the injunctions he had issued asking Wikileaks' domain registrar Dynadot to disable the domain name was totally pointless. "The record currently before the Court indicates that even the broad injunction issued as to Dynadot had exactly the opposite effect as was intended," the judge noted in his ruling. Not only did the disputed material continue to be available via numerous mirror sites, the media attention generated by the case ensured that more people knew about the availability of the information on the Internet than before, he said.
"The Court is not convinced that Plaintiffs have made an adequate showing that any restraining injunction in this case would serve its intended purpose," Judge White said. "In addition, there is evidence in the record that "the cat is out of the bag" and the issuance of an injunction would therefore be ineffective to protect the professed privacy rights of the bank's clients," he said.
The ruling comes two weeks after Judge White issued two injunctions against Wikileaks. The injunctions were in response to a lawsuit filed by the Julius Baer Group, a Swiss bank that, according to documents on Wikileaks, was involved in offshore money laundering and tax evasion in the Cayman Islands for customers in several countries, including the U.S.
Wikileaks claimed the documents had been leaked by a bank employee. In its complaint, the Swiss bank claimed that Wikileaks published hundreds of illegally obtained documents and confidential and copyrighted information belonging to the bank. The bank sued both Wikileaks and its domain registrar Dynadot.