Thursday, March 6, 2008
Swiss bank drops suit against Wikileaks site
Swiss Bank Julius Baer Holding AG has announced that they have dropped their lawsuit against the web site Wikileaks. This comes less than a week after a federal judge ruled in favor of Wikileaks.org, stating it would be unconstitutional to take the site offline.
Swiss bank Julius Baer Holding AG (BAER.VX: Quote, Profile, Research) on Wednesday dropped its lawsuit against a whistle-blower Web site after losing a battle to keep the site from posting private account-holder information.
The bank dismissed the lawsuit against the Web site, Wikileaks.org, and Dynadot LLC, the site's registrar, without explanation in a filing in U.S. district court in San Francisco. It left open the possibility of filing another lawsuit in the same or in a different court.
A Baer spokeswoman said the company had nothing to say beyond the court filing dismissing the case.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White last week reversed his earlier order shutting down Wikileaks.org after Baer and Dynadot entered a settlement agreeing to take it down. White and Baer drew international criticism from free-speech advocates who said the order was an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech.
"A prior restraint should not issue against free speech no matter how serious the plaintiff's claim of wrongdoing may sound," Paul Alan Levy, attorney for Public Citizen Litigation Group, said in a statement after Wednesday's dismissal.
Baer, based in Zurich, had said the documents posted on Wikileaks.org invaded the privacy of account holders and others and made unfounded allegations of wrongdoing against the bank.
Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil-rights groups argued that Baer should seek other remedies, such as monetary damages after publication of the documents, rather than ban the Web site. The judge agreed.
White last week said from the bench that his earlier order raised "serious questions of prior restraint and possible violations of the First Amendment."
He also questioned whether the order was enforceable as several so-called mirror sites offering a back door to Wikileaks.org went up in the wake of his earlier ruling.
A Swiss bank on Wednesday moved to withdraw a lawsuit that it had filed against a Web site that it claimed had displayed stolen documents revealing confidential information about the accounts of the bank’s clients.
Lawyers involved in the case said the move by Bank Julius Baer most likely ends its battle against Wikileaks, a Web site that allows people to post documents anonymously “to be of assistance to people of all regions who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations.”
The bank last month obtained an order from U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White in San Francisco that obstructed, but did not absolutely prevent, access to material posted on Wikileaks by turning off the domain name wikileaks.org. The judge’s action drew a flurry of media attention and a barrage of legal filings by media and other organizations arguing that the order violated the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment.
After a hearing on Friday, Judge White withdrew that order, saying that he was worried about its First Amendment implications and that he thought it might not be possible to prevent viewing of the documents once they had been posted on the Web anyway.
In its court filing, lawyers for Bank Julius Baer wrote that the bank “may, at their option, later pursue their claims, including in an alternate court, jurisdiction or venue.” But lawyers for the organizations that filed motions to intervene and friend-of-the-court briefs said they thought it unlikely that the bank would attempt to continue litigation elsewhere.
“I frankly find it hard to think that they are actually going to try to do that, at least in the United States,” said Matthew Zimmerman, a senior lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “They may very well try to go after their former employee,” who the bank claimed had stolen and posted the documents, he added.
A call to lawyers for Bank Julius Baer at the firm of Lavely & Singer in Los Angeles was not returned on Wednesday afternoon.
Mr. Zimmerman speculated that Wikileaks might move the registration of its domain name to a company outside the United States, making it more difficult for an American court to exercise jurisdiction over it. Bank Julius Baer had named Dynadot, a company in San Mateo, Calif., that was the registrar of the wikileaks.org domain name, as a defendant in the case, and the judge’s controversial order was aimed at Dynadot.
Garret D. Murai, a lawyer for Dynadot, said that as of Wednesday afternoon the owner of the domain name, John Shipton, had not transferred the domain name to a different registrar.
Roger Myers, a lawyer for Mr. Shipton, who is Australian and lives in Kenya, said his client may not yet have received word of Bank Julius Baer’s action.
Lawyers for the intervening parties in the case had threatened to try to recover legal fees in the case under a California law intended to prevent frivolous lawsuits, said Paul Alan Levy, a lawyer at Public Citizen who argued against the judge’s order at the hearing on Friday.
Mr. Levy said that the judge’s decision to withdraw his order would offer a powerful message in future cases in which plaintiffs might try to shut down Web sites because of the content they display.
“A judge who’s confronted with a request like the bank’s in the future is going to be much more reluctant to give this order,” Mr. Levy said. “The lesson of the case is going to be taken very seriously.”
Posted by SANJIDA AFROJ at 8:56 PM