Amazon, WikiLeaks, Lieberman: Power and Contract

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8 Responses

  1. Adam says:

    I’m not sure that it’s obvious that Wikileaks breached the ownership representation. As US Government works, the cables are not subject to copyright. So in an important sense there’s nothing to own.

  2. Lawrence Cunningham says:

    Thanks Adam. I was glib in highlighting the ownership concept in amazon’s policy. The policy is broader. It says customers: “represent and warrant that [they] own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content . . . that [they] post; that the content is accurate; that use of the content [they] supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity.”

  3. Adam says:


    I think even the broader policy is not clearly violated.

    As I understand it, there’s no law against me having classified data in my possession, only against those who are authorized to have it giving it to those not authorized.

    So what legal rights are violated?

  4. Adam says:

    Chris Soghoian has been enumerating cases where Amazon decided differently; including the Pentagon Papers and “Demand that Amazon stop selling Clorox. Violates ToS: ‘will not cause injury to any person or entity’ Clorox claims it kills 99% of bacteria”

  5. Ken Rhodes says:

    Adam wrote: “As I understand it, there’s no law against me having classified data in my possession, only against those who are authorized to have it giving it to those not authorized.”

    Adam, I suspect there is a glitch in your terminology “those who are authorized to have it giving it…” I suspect it’s against the law to give out classified data even if you’re not authorized to have it.

    On the other hand, this WikiLeaks deal has another problem–extraterritoriality. The WikiLeaks guy is not a U.S. citizen and he’s located not in the U.S. It remains to be seen what can be done to him, if anything.

    This, I suspect, put on shaky ground. By having the information on their server(s), they were “in possession” of the data even if they could claim they didn’t “own” it. For a loose analogy, consider a pawn broker who takes in some stolen property as collateral. If he later finds out it’s stolen, then being “in possession” obligates him to report it and give it up, even though he doesn’t “own” it until the pawn ticket expires unclaimed.

    They had this data within the U.S.A. and they were then disseminating it to folks not authorized to have it. So it seems to me that there’s a strong case that they were violating the Espionage Act as it’s been in force for many years, even without the attempted extension by Senator Lieberman et al. Having been in violation (perhaps unknowingly for a while) it seems the prudent thing for them to have done what they did–stop violating.

    Finally, as regards the terms of Amazon’s contract, one would have to guess that irrespective of damaging the nation’s security position, dissemination of this type of classified information violates the privacy of a lot of individuals who are presumably “damaged” by the disclosures, at least insofar as it affects their future earning power in their careers. So I would guess that yes, Amazon has an airtight case that the activity of WikiLeaks crosses the threshold for contract termination.

  6. Adam says:

    Ken, I don’t think it’s against the law; see the Pentagon Papers case.

    Lawrence, sorry to hijack your post on a nit.

  7. Ken Rhodes says:

    What I know about the Pentagon Papers is that Senator Gravel entered over 4,000 pages of them into the Congressional Record, and the Supreme Court ruled that under Article 1, Section 6, the Senator could not be prosecuted for that. The Supremes also ruled that the Government could not get a prior restraining order against the Times, but the Court ruled that the Government could subsequently charge the Times (and the Washington Post) with violating the Espionage Act for publishing the documents. Nor was Ellsburg acquited of the charge of violating the Espionage Act. Rather, the charge was dismissed because of irregularities in the case presented by the Government.

    Lawrence, I hope you don’t see this as hijacking your thread. To my non-attorney’s eyes, it looks like this fine point is crucial to the entire debate. The critical question is whether the violation is “transitive” (in the mathematical sense). If it is illegal for A to reveal information, then when A reveals it to B (illegally), does the obligation of secrecy flow to B along with the information?

  8. Erin Cartman says:

    Is it just my or is everyone loving this whole wikileaks controversy as much as I am? The only bad part about it is that it’s drawing attention away from the awful TSA and their new “security” procedures: