Over the past few weeks, we here at EFF have watched as whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has fueled an emotionally charged debate about the secrecy of government information and the people’s right to know. We have welcomed this debate, and the fact that there have been myriad views is the embodiment of the freedom of expression upon which this country was founded.
However, we’ve been greatly troubled by a recent shift in focus. The debate about the wisdom of releasing secret government documents has turned into a massive attack on the right of intermediaries to publish truthful information. Suddenly, WikiLeaks has become the Internet’s scapegoat, with a Who’s Who of American and foreign companies choosing to shun the site.
Let’s be clear — in the United States, at least, WikiLeaks has a fundamental right to publish truthful political information. And equally important, Internet users have a fundamental right to read that information and voice their opinions about it. We live in a society that values freedom of expression and shuns censorship. Unfortunately, those values are only as strong as the will to support them — a will that seems to be dwindling now in an alarming way.
On Friday, we wrote about Amazon’s disappointing decision to yank hosting services from WikiLeaks after a phone call from a senator’s office. Since then, a cascade of companies and organizations has backed away from WikiLeaks. A public figure called for the assassination of Assange. PayPal, MasterCard, and Visa axed WikiLeaks’ accounts. EveryDNS.net pulled Wikileaks’ DNS services. Unknown sources continue to cripple WikiLeaks with repeated denial of service attacks. Even the Library of Congress, normally a bastion of public access to information, is blocking WikiLeaks.
There has been a tremendous backlash against WikiLeaks from governments around the world. In the United States, lawmakers have rashly proposed a law that threatens legitimate news reporting well beyond WikiLeaks. We expect to see similar efforts in other countries. Like it or not, WikiLeaks has become the emblem for one of the most important battles for our rights that is likely to come along in our lifetimes. We cannot sit this one out.
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