Yesterday, I mentioned that Federal Judge Jeffrey S. White issued an order shutting down the Wikileaks site. He did this by ordering the domain registrar to disable the wikileaks.org domain. This only disables the name lookup feature, not the underlying website, which is still available via its IP address:
In a comment to my last post, Scott Greenfield asks,
[D]o you think it’s critical that the Judge White’s order was ineffective because of a technology error? If they figure out how to do it effectively next time, then what?
I’ve been giving this a little thought. I’m not an expert at Internet security, but I think I may have been unfair to Judge White. The IP address above traces to a server in Stockholm, Sweden, so he may very well have done all that it was in his power to do by ordering the American registrar to disable the name.
I suppose the aggrieved party could ask him to order the big American internet backbones to stop carrying traffic from that address. I think it would be analogous to ordering a phone company not to put through certain calls, or ordering the post office not to deliver certain mail. It would probably be a serious performance and administrative burden, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not legally possible.
Besides, the Wikileaks site could get a new IP address in a few minutes. Within a day or two, all the usual web sites would be linked to it again.
In addition, Wikileaks has many other domain names, some of which are obvious—wikileaks.cx, wikileaks.cn, wikileaks.in, wikileaks.org.uk, wikileaks.org.nz—and some of which aren’t, e.g. sunshinepress.org. There are also independent mirror sites that serve all the same content to the web from locations in several different countries.
The folks who built Wikileaks make some pretty grandiose claims about it being “uncensorable.” Technically speaking, there’s no such thing, but as a practical matter, they can probably put up a pretty good fight. Wikileaks was originally designed to support dissident activities by people in repressive countries, and it makes use of some advanced security technologies.
It’s not as farfetched as it sounds. Consider that the Chinese government has been trying to censor Wikileaks without success. Here in the United States, our government has only been able to stop online poker sites by attacking the flow of money, not the web sites themselves.
Maybe some intelligence agencies have the resources to stop Wikileaks—especially if they’re willing to commit illegal and/or violent acts—but I don’t think a lawsuit or an overzealous judge is much of a threat.