The Legal Maneuverings of Leakers and Governments

WikiLeaks is ushering in an era of "globalization of citizen oversight" in which whistleblowers, leakers and publishers are so scattered across the globe that governments are in a conundrum finding the right legal tools to address these leaks, said new media expert Clay Shirky, at a panel on WikiLeaks organized by the advocacy group Personal Democracy Forum on Jan. 25 at New York University.

Leakers can sidestep legal processes in their home countries by wading into murky legal waters of leaking to international organizations. "If you want to leak, do not do it to a member of press that is same nationality as you," said Shirky.

The so-called "Palestine Papers," leaked documents revealing the role of British intelligence in a crackdown of the Islamist movement Hamas, shared between Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV and the UK-based Guardian on Jan. 25, illustrates a shifting landscape in which partnerships between whistleblowers and international journalism outlets will make it more difficult for governments to clamp down on leakers without causing a diplomatic backlash.

As governments struggle to find laws to prevent sensitive data from is being transmitted, one way federal agencies have tried circumvent legal processes has been by putting pressure on corporations supporting WikiLeaks.

When Amazon knocked WikiLeaks off its hosting services in December, it tried to deflect speculation that it had been pushed into doing so. We're not reacting to a government inquiry, Amazon claimed, We're just ejecting a party that violated our terms of service publishing injurious material not theirs to publish.

"Disingenuous," said PayPal founder Peter Thiel, at a panel entitled "WikiLeaks: Why It Matters. Why It Doesn't." that was organized by the Silicon Valley forum, the Churchill Club, on Jan. 20 in Santa Clara, Calif. Wasn't the real reason why Amazon ejected WikiLeaks "the power of the state in the background?" Thiel pressed. Paypal confessed that it pulled the plug on supporting WikiLeaks after the State Department officially informed it that WikiLeaks was illegal.

Senator Joseph Lieberman, who publicly praised Amazon for dropping WikiLeaks, was "one of the few intellectually honest actors" in this game, Shirky said at the Churchill Club panel.

Twitter will be taking action in "the next couple of days" after the Department of Justice issued an order for information from WikiLeaks supporters, Birgitta Jonsdottir, an Icelandic Member of Parliament formerly involved in WikiLeaks and who was named in the subpoena, said over Skype yesterday to the NYU Panel. She did not attend the event in person because she had been advised not to travel into the U.S.