SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge who shuttered the renegade Web site Wikileaks.org reversed the decision Friday and allowed the site to re-open in the United States.
In mid-February, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White issued an injunction against Wikileaks after the Zurich-based Bank Julius Baer accused the site of posting sensitive account information stolen by a disgruntled former employee.
White set off storms of protest among free-speech advocates and news media organizations when he ordered the disabling of the entire site rather than issuing a narrowly tailored order to remove the bank's documents.
[In fact, all the judge's order did was to de-list the wikileaks.org domain name. The Wikileaks site was always fully accessible via its Internet Protocol address — http://126.96.36.199 — as well as various duplicate domain names which map to the same IP address, such as http://www.wikileaks.be.]
On Friday, the judge dropped the injunction that took the site offline, citing First Amendment concerns and questions about legal jurisdiction.
At a court hearing in San Francisco, White said he had "serious questions" about whether the legal measures sought by the bank "would be constitutionally approriate" and whether they constituted prior restraint by the government.
He also cited "possible violations of the First Amendment."
In addition, White said he questioned the "effectiveness" of blocking the site, an apparent reference to the fact that other Web sites quickly obtained and disseminated the information about the bank.
The judge recognized that "the genie is out of the bottle," said Matt Zimmerman, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of several organizations that filed briefs on the case.
The Associated Press and the ACLU were also among them.
"The reality of the Internet makes it difficult for him to issue an order that will have any impact, given the fact that all the material is already out there," Zimmerman said.
The bank sued Wikileaks and the San Mateo company Dynadot, which provided the Web site's U.S. domain name after client information was posted.
Dynadot agreed to shut down the Web site in exchange for the bank removing it from the lawsuit.
The Wikileaks site claims to have posted 1.2 million leaked government and corporate documents that it says expose unethical behavior, including a 2003 operation manual for the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
It wasn't clear whether the site would resume its operations. On Monday morning, Wikileaks.org seemed to be working, but very slowly.