Unless you’ve been in hiding in a cave somewhere, you’ve probably heard about WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange.
The WikiLeaks Website is an international organization that publishes submissions of classified, leaked and otherwise unavailable documents from anonymous news sources. Julian Assange is the site’s founder and editor in chief.
WikiLeaks has run afoul of multiple governments in the past few years in large part to the leaked documents and classified information that it features as content.
In March 2003, they released a copy of the standard operating procedures for the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. During the 2008 presidential election, WikiLeaks reported the contents of a Yahoo email account belonging to Sarah Palin, a vice presidential nominee. In October 2010, WikiLeaks released hundreds of thousands of documents relating to the Iraq War.
Most recently, WikiLeaks released diplomatic cables at the end of November. The leaked documents contained inflammatory and sensitive information about diplomatic proceedings, somewhat embarrassing information about world leaders and other information that experts felt could strain diplomatic relations between the United States and many other countries.
Needless to say, WikiLeaks hasn’t made many government friends, inside the U.S. or elsewhere.
Then, on December 2, something interesting happened. Amazon.com, the company providing cloud infrastructure services for WikiLeaks, severed its ties with the organization.
It’s not uncommon for bad actors to be run off by cloud providers in the past. Service providers have taken action to end their relationships with customers caught using their services to conduct criminal activities. The terms of services that govern most of the cloud providers offer an escape clause for the operator if the service is being used for anything illegal or if it has the potential to tarnish the service provider’s brand.
Now, I’m not a proponent of publicizing information deemed classified by the U.S. Government, especially when that information can be viewed as a threat to the national security. However, this seems to walk the line of censorship.
The actual legality of leaking these documents is tricky. I am by no means an expert on the legal aspects, but these documents were leaked by people and on servers located in countries where significant protection is in place for both media outlets and their sources. That means that Amazon could have effectively booted an organization off of their cloud infrastructure that hadn’t really committed a criminal activity.
If WikiLeaks did something to violate Amazon’s terms of service, they were well within their rights to terminate their relationship. But as a publishing outlet, it’s questionable that WikiLeaks was doing anything wrong. They simply created a platform designed to share and express information. Amazon probably found a loophole on “brand tarnishing” and used it to justify pulling the plug.
But why did they really do it? I think it was a desire to curry favor with the government that led them to pull the plug on WikiLeaks.
Just one day before booting WikiLeaks, Amazon made a major talent acquisition, bringing the person onboard who formerly led Microsoft’s federal business to help sell cloud and other services to the government. Amazon is competing for a handful of government contracts and is clearly looking to ramp up their business with the federal government.
Now if you’re looking to sell cloud services to the federal government, it’s probably not a good idea to be the cloud service provider for the online news organization that has repeatedly and recently angered this country’s leaders by releasing sensitive and classified information.
At the end of the day, what WikiLeaks has done for the sake of transparency in government was ill-advised and potentially harmful for America and homeland security. However, Amazon pulling the plug on WikiLeaks appears to be not an act of civil duty, but a financially-motivated and self-interested act of censorship.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tagged: Amazon, Amazon.com, censorship, cloud, cloud computing, cloud service provider, Julian Assange, leaked documents, WikiLeaks | 2 Comments »