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Wikileaks Focus Of Senate Bill, Dropped By US Partners

December 3, 2010

The fallout from Wikileaks’ decision to post over a quarter of a million US government cables this past weekend continued on Thursday, as the website began to be the target of hackers and its actions prompted the introduction of a new Senate bill that would make it illegal to publish the names of military and intelligence agency informants.

The legislation, which was written by Senators John Ensign, Scott Brown, and Joseph Lieberman, would amend the existing US Espionage Act and is being referred to as the SHIELD Act.

“Julian Assange and his cronies, in their effort to hinder our war efforts, are creating a hit list for our enemies by publishing the names of our human intelligence sources,” Ensign said in a statement. “Our sources are bravely risking their lives when they stand up against the tyranny of al-Qaeda, the Taliban and murderous regimes, and I simply will not stand idly by as they become death targets because of Julian Assange.”

“Wikileaks is not a whistleblower website and Assange is not a journalist,” he added.

“Our foreign representatives, allies, and intelligence sources must have the clear assurance that their lives will not be endangered by those with opposing agendas, whether they are Americans or not, and our government must make it clear that revealing the identities of these individuals will not be tolerated,” said Lieberman, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. “This legislation will help hold people criminally accountable who endanger these sources of information that are vital to protecting our national security interests.”

“The reckless behavior of Wikileaks has compromised our national security and threatened the safety of our troops overseas, and this bipartisan legislation gives the Department of Justice a tool to prevent something like this from happening again,” added Brown said. “While I strongly support government transparency, certain information must be kept classified in order to protect innocent American lives during this time of war and global terrorism.”

Earlier that day, Amazon.com announced that they would no longer host the website of Wikileaks, claiming that the publisher had violated its terms of service by posting content that they did not own the rights to. Amazon representative denied that pressure from the government and a round of Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) cyber attacks influenced their decision.

“There have been reports that a government inquiry prompted us not to serve Wikileaks any longer. That is inaccurate,” the company said in a statement, according to Reuters. “There have also been reports that it was prompted by massive DDOS attacks. That too is inaccurate. There were indeed large-scale DDOS attacks, but they were successfully defended against.”

Amazon said that Wikileaks was violating “several parts” of their terms of service agreement, adding that it was “clear that Wikileaks doesn’t own or otherwise control all the rights to this classified content”¦ It is not credible that the extraordinary volume of 250,000 classified documents that Wikileaks is publishing could have been carefully redacted in such a way as to ensure that they weren’t putting innocent people in jeopardy.”

“Some of this data is controversial, and that’s perfectly fine,” the company added. “But, when companies or people go about securing and storing large quantities of data that isn’t rightfully theirs, and publishing this data without ensuring it won’t injure others, it’s a violation of our terms of service, and folks need to go operate elsewhere.”

In a similar move, Tableau Software, whose software had been used by Wikileaks, announced that they had “removed data visualizations published by Wikileaks to Tableau Public” on Wednesday, the AFP reported.

“Our terms of service require that people using Tableau Public do not upload, post, email, transmit or otherwise make available any content that they do not have the right to make available,” the Seattle-based firm said, according to the news agency. “Furthermore, if we receive a complaint about a particular set of data, we retain the right to investigate the situation and remove any offending data, if necessary.”

“Given the controversy around the Wikileaks data, we’ve closely followed the debate about who actually has the rights to the leaked data,” Tableau Software said. The company went on to say that removing the Wikileaks content was “not an easy decision, nor one that we took lightly” and acknowledging that it would “inevitably be met with mixed reaction”¦ However, our terms of service were created to ensure responsible use of data.”

In response to the developments of Wednesday and Thursday, Wikileaks published video excerpts from a speech, make by former President John F. Kennedy in 1961, which decried excessive government secrecy.

Among the subjects highlighted by the company in the Kennedy speech was a quote about how government “must meet its obligation to provide you with the fullest possible information outside the narrowest limits of national security,” and another in which the president said, “We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it.”

However, as AFP noted in a Thursday evening article, Kennedy also went on “to cite instances in which newspapers had revealed sensitive information to the ‘nation’s foes’ at a time of ‘national peril’ and he appealed for restraint–excerpts which did not appear in the YouTube excerpts posted by Wikileaks.” They also noted that Kennedy said that “even the privileged rights of the First Amendment must yield to the public’s need for national security.”

As of early Friday morning, BBC News was reporting that the main Wikileaks.org website had been shut down by the company providing the domain. The cause, according to the British news agency, was a series of “massive cyber attacks.”

However, they noted, “Wikileaks has already reappeared using a Swiss web address” and had been using Twitter “to urge its fans to redistribute its ‘raw’ net address so it can be viewed at any time”¦ This numerical internet protocol (IP) address remains live and accessible even when web domains–the normal ‘www’ addresses used to access most sites–are unavailable.”

“The net appears to be closing in on Wikileaks as more and more companies it relies on distance themselves from it,” BBC Technology Reporter said on Friday. “Shutting down the main .org site will cause problems but it is by no means the end”¦ In some ways, any attempts to cut off Wikileaks could be a case of too little, too late. The thousands of secret US diplomatic cables at the heart of the controversy are already with media outlets.”

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