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Close of Wikileaks website raises free speech concerns

A US judge's move to close the dissident site Wikileaks only showed the limits of enforcing national laws in cyberspace.

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Internet activists this week gave a Swiss bank and a San Francisco judge a powerful demonstration of the "Streisand Effect."

That's Internet jargon for any effort to suppress online information that backfires by drawing much wider publicity.

In this case, the Julius Baer Bank sought an injunction against Wikileaks, a website that anonymously publishes whistleblower documents, for posting papers purporting to show money laundering and tax evasion schemes at the bank's Cayman Islands branch. A federal district judge late last week took the unusual step of shutting down the entire site instead of removing just the bank's documents.

What followed was an explosion of interest in the relatively obscure website, with many online activists helping to redirect curious eyes to alternative sites where the content had been reinstated.

The Wikileaks case points to the difficulty of enforcing national norms on a global, decentralized Internet. Having weathered the first ruling, it's now unclear if Wikileaks's elusive representatives will even bother to mount a defense at the next court hearing.

"I think we are seeing the limits of a jurisdiction-based judicial system as it faces a relatively borderless Internet," says David Ardia, director of the Citizen Media Law Project, a Harvard-linked group advocating for free speech.

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