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Amazon says WikiLeaks violated policy, not politics

Carl Brooks, Senior Technology Writer

Weekly cloud computing update

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has posted a statement on its website explaining the rationale behind banning political whistleblower WikiLeaks from using its public domain hosting services. The retail giant denied that it was giving in to political pressure from Sen. Joe Lieberman and said the ban was a matter of internal policy.

I cannot comment on Amazon's motivations; Amazon did not tell Senator Lieberman why it made the decision it did.

 

Leslie Phillips, Senator Lieberman's communications director,

"[Amazon Web Services] does not pre-screen its customers, but it does have terms of service that must be followed. WikiLeaks was not following them," read the statement in part. It goes on to explain that WikiLeaks had violated a provision of Amazon Web Services' Terms of Service (TOS) that states "you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content…that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity."

The statement concluded that the decision had nothing to do with Lieberman: "There have been reports that a government inquiry prompted us not to serve WikiLeaks any longer. That is inaccurate."

AWS said WikiLeaks plainly does not own the leaked Cablegate (as WikiLeaks has branded its site) documents, which were classified national security documents under Executive Order 13526.

There is some doubt as to the status of the documents -- although they have effectively been added to the public domain and can be reproduced by almost anyone at this point, including WikiLeaks -- but WikiLeaks did not have the authority to release them in the first place.

Amazon also pooh-poohed reports that the distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks on WikiLeaks had any effect. Independent monitoring shows the attacks were weak and speak far more to WikiLeaks' struggle to properly implement reliable infrastructure. Amazon has stated that it can absorb the largest DDOS attacks with ease.

The narrative that Amazon was pushed into removing WikiLeaks due to political pressure has stuck, however, and the company clearly does not want users thinking they are subject to possible evicting based on the whims of a grandstanding politician. Response to that story has swiftly gathered steam, with bloggers and pundits denouncing Amazon in harsh terms.

"I'm disgusted by Amazon's cowardice and servility in abruptly terminating its hosting of the WikiLeaks website in the face of threats from Senator Joe Lieberman and other Congressional right-wingers," said famous whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg in an  open letter to Amazon on his website. He asked Amazon employees to leak company documents to WikiLeaks in retaliation. That may not work, however, as WikiLeaks has apparently ditched former secrets it has leaked about private organizations in favor of U.S. government documents only.

More Web companies bow to Lieberman
Another company that offers a Web service, Tableau Software, has also bowed to Lieberman. It has removed WikiLeaks-related material that was created by freelance journalist James Ball, on his own recognizance, from its site.

"Our decision to remove the data from our servers came in response to a public request by Senator Joe Lieberman…when he called for organizations hosting WikiLeaks to terminate their relationship with the website," Tableau said in a statement.

The company has garnered a great deal of negative attention for the move; Tableau was immediately attacked for capitulation and engaging in state-sponsored censorship. Responses like that are exactly what Amazon is hoping to quash with its statement on the matter.

I'm disgusted by Amazon's cowardice and servility in abruptly terminating its hosting of the WikiLeaks website.

 

Daniel Ellsberg,

Lieberman's office has been plenty happy to enjoy the credit so far, but when asked about Amazon's response belittling his influence, the response was a carefully worded statement that avoided the subject of political pressure.

"Neither Senator Lieberman or committee staff called Tableau. I cannot comment on Amazon's motivations; Amazon did not tell Senator Lieberman why it made the decision it did," said Leslie Phillips, the Senator's communications director, in an email.

Amazon's customers should feel somewhat reassured by the provider's public stance; it has demarcated unacceptable content as that which is of uncertain domain and that which may be injurious to others, which are fairly standard terms for Web hosts.

This is easy to test, of course. Someone could rehost the cables -- now in the public domain -- on Amazon and see whether they get the WikiLeaks treatment or receive support from the company's supposed firm stance against the senator from Connecticut.

Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at cbrooks@techtarget.com.


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