Journal of Information & Privacy Law

The Legality of WikiLeaks: Are they a Patriot?

By Bianca Wright on Monday, December 4th, 2017
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As soon as WikiLeaks began releasing confidential documents, the United States administration began to seek ways to not only prevent the release of publication but to also punish those who have provided confidential information. But the thought of WikiLeaks being a patriot seems to have been overlooked.

WikiLeaks should be viewed as a patriot.1 With only an Internet connection, WikiLeaks and other whistleblower websites can distribute thousands of documents leading to an immediate and irreversible flood of information.2 The outpour of information is irreversible because once it is uploaded; the information has the opportunity to go viral, spreading worldwide in a matter of hours.3 When content is labeled as censored, it tends to gain more notoriety and typically remains accessible through mirror websites.4 WikiLeaks can broadcast sensitive documents throughout the world acting as the principal for mirror websites.5 Sites like WikiLeaks play a valuable journalistic role in exposing government misconduct in already controversial wars and political actions.6 WikiLeaks and mirror websites present value to the democratic society in exposing corruption and demanding accountability, which outweighs possible detrimental effects.7

Because of freedom of the press, WikiLeaks has provoked both passionate support and vocal condemnation because of their upload of classified military documents.8 While the site leaks a vast number of documents from all corners of the world, its notoriety comes primarily from U.S. government document releases such as war logs.9 WikiLeaks is no stranger to scrutiny having received awards from Economist New Media and Amnesty International UK Digital Media for being a zealous advocate for journalism.10 Under existing American Jurisprudence, courts could enjoin WikiLeaks and compel the organization to disclose the identities of its sources. Theoretically, this is legally justifiable, but there is a strong public policy argument against supporting such actions. Courts cannot deny the fact that WikiLeaks is an invaluable service because it demands accountability.11 For example, the Watergate scandal produced several noteworthy reforms dealing with abuse-of-power issues demanding stricter accountability through the War Powers Act, which mandates congressional approval for military actions, and Freedom of Information Act, which allows citizens access to some governmental information.12 Similarly, whistleblower websites are a news source of the future and should be embraced by governments not only because they are inevitable, but also because they are valuable to a democratic society.13 In turn, they stimulate future generations of ethical new media sources and promote accountability in politics and business.14

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  1. David Corneil, Harboring WikiLeaks: Comparing Swedish and American Press Freedom in the Internet Age, 41 Cal. W. Int’l L.J. 477, 481 (2011).
  2. Wes Ritchie, Note, Why Immi Matters: The First Glass Fortress in the Age of WikiLeaks, 35 Suffolk Transnat’l L. Rev. 451, 471 (2012).
    . James P. Kelly, Jr., WikiLeaks: A Guide for American Law Librarians, 104 Law Libr. J. 245, 261 (2012).
  3. James P. Kelly, Jr., WikiLeaks: A Guide for American Law Librarians, 104 Law Libr. J. 245, 261 (2012).
  4. 1-2 Newsgathering and the Law § 2.01 (2015).
  5. Ctr. for Constitutional Rights v. Lind, 954 F. Supp. 2d 389, 392 (D. Md. 2013).
  6. David Corneil, Harboring WikiLeaks: Comparing Swedish and American Press Freedom in the Internet Age, 41 Cal. W. Int’l L.J. 477, 522 (2011).
  7. Id.
  8. Yochai Benkler, A Free Irresponsible Press: Wikileaks and the Battle over the Soul of the Networked Fourth Estate, 46 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 311, 348 (2011).
  9. Hedges v. Obama, 724 F.3d 170, 195 (2nd Cir. 2013).
  10. See the Ten Most Influential Moments of the Decade, Webby Awards, (last visited Oct. 10, 2016) (listing ten Internet innovations from the last decade).
  11. Derek E. Bambauer, Orwell’s Armchair, 79 U. Chi. L. Rev 863, 900 (2012).
  12. Symposium, Constructing A New Federalism: Jurisdictional Competence And Competition: Historical Roots: Redesigning The Architecture Of Federalism–An American Tradition: Modern Devolution Policies In Perspective, 14 Yale L. & Pol’y Rev. 227, 289 (1996).
  13. Whistleblower 10949-13w v. Comm’r, No. 10949-13w, 2014 Tax Ct. Memo LEXIS 95, at *107 (U.S. T.C. June 4, 2014).
  14. Repetti v. Sysco Corp., 730 N.W.2d 189, P7 (Wisc. Ct. App. 2007).

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