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UN rights chief criticizes actions against WikiLeaks

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Thursday criticized actions by governments and corporations to cut off funding to WikiLeaks [website; JURIST news archive], saying it could violate the website's rights to free expression. The comments come following efforts from the US government and US-based companies to cut ties with the controversial website, responsible for leaking more than 250,000 classified diplomatic documents [NYT backgrounder] last month and 90,000 related to the Afghan war [JURIST report] in July. After releasing the documents last month, Mastercard, Visa, Amazon.com, PayPal and EveryDNS have ended involvement with WikiLeaks [AP report], jeopardizing its ability to raise funds and continue operations. In turn, these companies have been subject to retaliatory cyber attacks, in which WikiLeaks has denied involvement. Pillay, who described the exchange as a cyber war, went on to call for an end to these attacks and actions by governments against WikiLeaks taken through third party companies, instead calling for out right prosecution [Reuters report] if illegal acts have been committed. Also Thursday, US Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) [official websites] praised the actions of these corporations [press release], describing them as "good corporate citizens."

Companies that are cutting off their services to Wikileaks ... are doing the right thing as good corporate citizens and deserve the support of the American people. The Wikileaks data dump has jeopardized U.S. national interests and the lives of intelligence sources around the world. This is no time for business as usual. While corporate entities make decisions based on their obligations to their shareholders, sometimes full consideration of those obligations requires them to act as responsible citizens. We offer our admiration and support to those companies exhibiting courage and patriotism as they face down intimidation from hackers sympathetic to Wikileaks' philosophy of irresponsible information dumps for the sake of damaging global relationships.
On Tuesday, US Representative Pete King (R-NY) [official website] introduced the Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination Act (SHIELD) [HR 6506 text], which would allow the prosecution of the disclosure of classified information related to intelligence activities. Lieberman introduced similar legislation in the Senate last week.

Shortly after WikiLeaks' release of the classified documents, US Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Defense (DOD) were conducting a criminal investigation [JURIST report] of WikiLeaks for the release. Holder condemned WikiLeaks' recent release of government cables, saying that it threatens US national security, specifically by risking the safety of those serving the country and straining important diplomatic relationships. Holder said during a press conference, that "there is an active ongoing criminal investigation that [the DOJ] is conducting with the Department of Defense." He added, "there is a basis to believe crimes have been committed, and we are in the process of investigating those crimes." The day before, the Obama administration issued a statement [press release] through Press Secretary Robert Gibbs condemning the releases as "reckless and dangerous." Holder did not say when he expected to announce the investigation's results.

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