Wikileaks is back online

February 29, 2008 6:34:57 PM PST
A landmark First Amendment case may end before a significant ruling on free speech can be made. A website called posted private customer account information from a Swiss bank. A federal judge in San Francisco issued a temporary injunction blocking the website but reversed his decision today.

It was a landmark case in U.S. District Court in San Francisco on Friday. The judge lifted his injunction shutting down the website after Swiss Bank Julius Baers sued to get private documents off the internet.

"I think it's a tremendous victory for the first amendment and the public's right to know," said Paul Levy from the Public Citizen Litigation Group.

Court documents show a disgruntled former employee of Bank Julius Baer released private account information to a Swiss publication. It included customers' account and social security numbers.

The documents ended up on Wikileaks, a website that describes itself as a place to leak uncensored documents to reveal unethical behavior in government and corporations.

"The judge abdicated judicial authority to the internet with respect to information I think we hold dear as being private to ourselves. Essentially if the information is released on the internet, it's out there and there's nothing we can do," said William Briggs, the plaintiff.

Nine attorneys represented the defense, including media and civil right's groups. They argued the plaintiff's request for prior restraint, blocks free speech and is unconstitutional. The other big issue, who was the defendant?

The judge questioned the court's jurisdiction in the case since there's no person or company, just software that allows users all over the world to create and edit content. That's something the plaintiff feels was done strategically.

"I think they purposefully set their organization up just for that precise purpose. And as the judge pointed out to us, we have to go back now, evaluate who we're going to pursue and provide the court with evidence of that," said Briggs.

Even if this case ends on the judge's narrow ruling over jurisdiction, legal analysts believe the issue of right to privacy versus free speech on the internet, will have to be addressed by lawmakers or in the courts.

"There's a public policy question there and there's a question for people who operate internet sites. Is that such a good idea always? Is there a need for caution sometimes?" said Levy.

The judge will issue a written order on his ruling. The next step in the case will be arguments over jurisdiction and that should happen in the next couple of weeks.