2010-12-02 Censorship in the US continued [Update 2]

After Amazon pulled WikiLeaks off its hosting platform following not a legal order but a call from Sen. Lieberman's office, today Tableau Software, which hosted data visualizations created for the Cablegate material, followed suit. A statement on the Tableau website says:

"Our decision to remove the data from our servers came in response to a public request by Senator Joe Lieberman, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee, when he called for organizations hosting WikiLeaks to terminate their relationship with the website."

Let us look at this more closely. First, the visualizations contained no classified data at all, but merely described the distribution of the data according to various criteria. Secondly, Joe Lieberman's "public request" carries no more legal authority than the next person's.

As Glenn Greenwald wrote today, "Those are the benign, purely legal documents that have now been removed from the Internet in response to Joe Lieberman's demands and implied threats. He's on some kind of warped mission where he's literally running around single-handedly dictating what political content can and cannot be on the Internet, issuing broad-based threats to "all companies" that is causing suppression of political information.[...]

"If people -- and journalists -- can't be riled when Joe Lieberman is unilaterally causing the suppression of political content from the Internet, when will they be? After all, as Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out in condemning this, the same rationale Lieberman is using to demand that Amazon and all other companies cease any contact with WikiLeaks would justify similar attacks on The New York Times, since they've published the same exact diplomatic cables on its site as WikiLeaks has on its. What Joe Lieberman is doing is indescribably pernicious and if "journalists" cared in the slightest about their own self-interest -- never mind all the noble things they pretend to care about -- they ought to be vociferously objecting to this."

TechDirt notes: "Of course, beyond the problem that the government would be doing this in the first place is a separate concern: the role of corporations in helping make this happen. Some have argued, in the case of Amazon, that as a private company it has the right to refuse service to anyone. That's absolutely true. But if it's refusing service based on political pressure from those in positions of power, that's still censorship."

Tech President points to a Google cache version of a post on Tableau's blog on Sunday boasting that "Wikileaks is using Tableau to show the breadth of the data by subject, country, origin and classification, organization, program and topic." The original post has in the meantime been deleted from the website.

Update 1: In related news, Sens. John Ensign, Scott Brown and Joe Lieberman unveiled a bill which would amend the US Espionage Act and would give US authorities "a tool to prevent something like this (WikiLeaks disclosures) from happening again," said Sen. Brown. According to AFP, "the bill would make it illegal to publish the names of informants serving the US military and intelligence community. It was not immediately clear whether the new rule would also apply to traditional US media."

Dave Weigel at Slate has posted the full text of the SHIELD Act. Weigel notes that "Right now, the information protected is 'any method of secret writing and any mechanical or electrical device or method used for the purpose of disguising or concealing the contents, significance, or meanings of communications.' One of the problems for the people who want to nail WikiLeaks is that the information being leaked, while embarrassing, hasn't been highly classified. It's been secret, or marked 'NOFORN,' but it's not classified."

TechDirt commented: "As if to more directly trample the First Amendment, Lieberman has now introduced an anti-Wikileaks bill, which would expand the Espionage Act to make it a criminal act if you publish the name of a US intelligence source. Note that it is already illegal to leak such a name, but this bill seeks to make it illegal to publish the names after they've been leaked. This seems like a classic violation of the First Amendment. As Wired notes, something like this would make it illegal for a newspaper to publish the fact that former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noreiga was once a paid CIA intelligence source. Hell, there are claims that Osama bin Laden worked with the CIA decades ago. Should it be illegal to report that?"

Update 2: Amazon now claims that "There have been reports that a government inquiry prompted us not to serve WikiLeaks any longer. That is inaccurate," in a statement quoted by BoingBoing. Rob Beschizza comments: "Does this add up? Amazon just happened to take an interest in the intellectual property status of government documents after being called by the same U.S. Senator who another company reports was explicitly demanding the removal of Wikileaks material? A Senator who was able to make a public statement about Amazon's removal of the material, as the removal occurred?"

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