WikiLeaks escalates War on Illegal Content

John C. Tanner
21 Dec 2010

Whatever you think of the recent actions of website WikiLeaks, it's fairly clear from all the subsequent dithering by government officials in the US and elsewhere that the story isn't likely to end with whatever happens to site founder Julian Assange. Indeed, political outrage over WikiLeaks is so virulent that even internet businesses are getting nervous.

In early December, Amazon AWS kicked WikiLeaks off of its cloud, claiming that WikiLeaks violated AWS' terms of service by posting material copyrighted by someone else. Shortly afterward, PayPal terminated WikiLeaks' account for violating its Acceptable Use Policy, which bans customers from activities that "encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity".

Whether you accept their rationales or not (and plenty of critics don't), it's a significant development that neither Amazon nor PayPal want to be associated even tangentially with WikiLeaks' activities - certainly not with US Senator Joseph Lieberman (chairman of the Senate committee on homeland security) calling on hosting companies to drop WikiLeaks.

To be clear, Amazon officially denies reports that its decision was the result of pressure from Senator Lieberman. On the other hand, cloud providers like Amazon already know how a number of US lawmakers feel about hosting another form of "illegal" content in the cloud: file-sharing.

Last month the US Senate Judiciary Committee approved the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA), a controversial bill that would give the government the power to enforce digital copyright laws by shutting down entire domain names if infringement is deemed to be "central" to the purpose of the website registered under the domain name. It's not hard to imagine sites like WikiLeaks being included in the scope of the bill - perhaps Amazon already has imagined it, given their official reason for dropping WikiLeaks.

Either way, the US government's desire to possess a "nuclear option" for domain names with "illegal" content could be potentially bad news for the telecom sector, as the impact of bills like COICA could extend well beyond their stated intentions.

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