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Two civil liberties organizations have stepped into a mushrooming first amendment fight over a federal judge’s order shutting down Wikileaks.org, a Web site known for anonymous posting of confidential government and corporate documents. The American Civil Liberties Union in Northern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which defends free speech and privacy on the Internet, have asked to intervene in the suit by Swiss bank, Julius Baer, seeking to permanently shut down the site. The case became an instant cause among Internet loggers and drew wider media attention when U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ordered the domain name shut down last week. This lead to wide posting of the site’s Internet Protocol, or IP address at, allowing anyone to continue to access Wikileaks documents through a digital back door. The ACLU and EFF filed motions Feb. 26 to intervene in the lawsuit on behalf of organizations and individuals who have accessed and used its documents and want to continue. The Wikileaks website was created a year ago to allow participants to anonymously disclose documents that purport to expose misconduct by companies and governments around the world. Among other things it posted materials discussing U.S. Army operations at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and alleged human rights abuses in China. A Swiss bank, Julius Baer, asked the court to order removal of several hundred documents posted on Wikileaks.org that purport to be about alleged money laundering and tax evasion. The bank’s attorney, Evan Spiegel of Lavely & Singer in Los Angeles, said the postings invaded the privacy of the banks’ records and risked exposure of client information. White initially ordered the site permanently shuttered, prior to a hearing that included a Wikileaks lawyer. That was later pulled back and a temporary restraining order imposed, with a hearing set for Feb. 29. “The Supreme Court has warned against ‘burning down the house to roast the pig,’” said Steve Mayer, with San Francisco’s Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin, who is working for the interveners. “Blocking access to the entire site in response to a few documents posted there completely disregards the public’s right to know,” said Ann Brick, ACLU staff attorney in San Francisco. The case is reminiscent of the 2001 suit by Yahoo Inc. challenging a French government order to block online auctioning of Nazi memorabilia by Yahoo in France, where such sales are illegal. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2006 that American courts did not have jurisdiction to interfere with the French law, despite Yahoo’s claim of First Amendment violations, Yahoo Inc. v. La Ligue Contre Le Racisme, 433 F.3d 1199 (2006).

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