Joshua Koltun, his pro bono attorney, rushed to file a brief to defend Matthews.
"It was an extremely aggressive move because they were basically grabbing at straws," said Koltun, who appeared without his client in court. "They said he would face liability for a very tenuous connection or be confronted with disobeying the court order."
The bank's attorneys claimed that Wikileaks had disclosed confidential or forged information about its clients and said there was nothing newsworthy about it. In this way, they are attempting to pit freedom of speech against personal privacy rights.
"Wikileaks has actively solicited the theft of private information," said William Briggs, one of the lawyers for the bank. "They are no longer shielded by the First Amendment."
But freedom of speech laws trump privacy rights in this case, argues Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which filed an amicus brief opposing the judge's injunction against Wikileaks. "The information was already out there and the bank wanted to force everyone who had a copy of it to pull it down."
Perhaps the more salient point going forward, Zimmerman says, is that consumers are more wary of what Internet provider or domain registrar they choose and to make sure those companies protect free speech rights.
In their suit, Julius Baer's attorneys sued Wikileak's domain registrar, Dynadot LLC in San Mateo, for hosting the site. The small start-up agreed in a Feb.14 court stipulation to all of the bank's demands to disable the site and prevent its transfer to another server, in exchange for getting the case against them dismissed.
"This is part of the reason why Congress has passed laws to get the intermediary out of the way," Baer said. "Dynadot was never liable for the information its user posted. It's unfortunate that they apparently didn't know the law well enough and decided to fold."
Dynadot lawyer Garret Murai denied that his client had agreed to all of the bank's terms. "The court's order to remove the domain name settings is not something we wanted to do," he said. "We did not agree to that."
David Ardia, an Internet law expert at Harvard, says even in the US, which has long established First Amendment protections, the threat of lawsuits against Web sites such as Wikileaks still lingers.
The power of an individual judge to bring down a Web site still remains, he says, but not if sites can function on international servers outside US jurisdiction.
Most online bulletins or blog posts allow people to post comments and remain anonymous, but not to the point where governments can't find out who they are. What makes Wikileaks formidable, some say, is its software's ability to cover the tracks of its users.
Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, says time will tell whether the Wikileaks site can prove its mission to covertly leak information and should never have been silenced in the first place.
"As we as a society become increasingly dependent on the Internet as a source of information, the vulnerability of the Web site to that kind of action is something to fear," he said.
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