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WikiLeaks to remain hosted in France

Wednesday, 8 December, 2010 - 16:01

Banned from the US, WikiLeaks has moved to Europe. The French Industry Minister wanted it booted from France too, but the site's French host provider, OVH, will not yield as long as the judiciary sits on the fences.

Wikileaks is now accessible via new European extensions of its web address: .de (Germany), .fi (Finland), .nl (Netherlands) and .ch (Switzerland). Wikileaks.ch is hosted by OVH, a service provider based in the North of France.

Last Friday, OVH consulted the judge of summary procedures of Lille to know whether they could host the wikileaks.ch web site on their servers or not. The judge decided on Monday that he could not reach a decision himself, and recommended organising a hearing in court with all parties concerned. OVH then confirmed that they would host Wikileaks as long as the court did not order them to cut off access to their servers.

The previous host, the American domain name provider EveryDNS, had had to ditch Wikileaks after falling prey to a massive cyber-attack, which they said imperilled the hosting of their 500,000 other sites.

According to Mark Stephens, the lawyer of Wikileaks founder Julien Assange, EveryDNS had been attacked by a “state actor” – read the US government.

In what is beginning to resemble a worldwide game of cat-and-mouse, WikiLeaks was able to move to Europe, thanks to support from the Pirate Party, an international movement fighting for the free sharing of online content. “About two hours after the deactivation of wikileaks.ch by EveryDNS.net we acquired a heap of redundant DNS Servers,” in order to keep wikileaks.ch up and running, said the Pirate Party of Switzerland in a communiqué published on its web site. The Pirate Party of Switzerland, which was founded in 2009 on the model of the Pirate Party of Sweden, has built a global mirroring infrastructure to ensure that WikiLeaks content remains available worldwide.

“Criminalise WikiLeaks”

But Eric Besson, France's Minister of Industry and Digital Economy, deems that it is not acceptable that a French company should host WikiLeaks.

“France cannot host Internet sites that violate the confidentiality of diplomatic relations and endanger people protected by diplomatic secrecy,” he said. “France cannot host web sites that are considered criminal and rejected by other states because they infringe on their fundamental rights.” He asked the CGIET, France's highest body governing the Internet, to define “what action can be taken” to boot out of the country the immigrant web site, presumed illegal because it is dangerous and “criminal”. But it's hard to to strip it of its citizenship since it is now stateless! Michèle Alliot-Marie, France's Foreign Affairs Minister, had earlier said that “WikiLeaks infringes upon the sovereignty of states.”

Already last Wednesday, Amazon had stopped hosting WikiLeaks, because of pressure from US lawmakers, in particular from senator Joe Libermann, a former Democrat. Washington lawmakers want to change the law to officially “criminalise” WikiLeaks and make it easier to charge its founder Julian Assange, who is the subject of an international arrest warrant.

He came partly out of hiding on Sunday afternoon to take part in a chat organised by the site of the British daily The Guardian, and during the web chat he said that he had received death threats. This is hardly surprising.

Three paradoxes

  • Firstly, the states that claim they are threatened by the airing of their secrets have started a dangerous escalation. Republican lawmakers from the US Congress have called for the “execution of Bradley Manning”, the young soldier who has been charged with handing 251,587 US diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Also, if it is confirmed that the United States have used cyber-attacks against web hosting companies, it would mean that they are using the very same criminal methods that they otherwise condemn. 
  • Secondly, by using such massive weapons against WikiLeaks, the world's mightiest military and economic power appears vulnerable, because the power of the state – any state – is also about guarding its secrets (not just military secrets but also those regarding diplomatic and strategic negotiations) from its citizens. Full transparency is impossible, that's a fact. WikiLeaks might have crossed the line; it's up to the judiciary to decide. Yet the problem remains for states: Internet knows no borders and it is futile, at least for democratic countries, to try to limit access to the web. 
  • Finally, The New York Times (US), The Guardian (UK), Der Spiegel (Germany), El País (Spain) and Le Monde (France), reference dailies in their countries, have published diplomatic cables from the State Department without facing any trouble. Only WikiLeaks – the pure player – is the subject of attacks. Would it be to shut it up at any price, as Julien Assange promises new revelations about “a large American bank”? 

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