Does WikiLeaks show how governments can treat any site?

Online, every company is a publisher, with many of the same risks

A British judge approved a Swedish request to sent an Australian national back for trial for sexual assault after rediscovering it was prosecuting him when an American diplomat complained her secrets had been spilled.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange will be shipped back to Sweden in 10 days unless he appeals the ruling, which rejected his lawyer's assertion that the 39-year-old couldn't get a fair trial in Sweden because it excludes press and members of the public from sexual assault trials.

That didn't fly; Sweden doesn't have much of a reputation for kangaroo courtage; more the opposite, if anything.

But Sweden isn't pursuing Assange for the alleged sexual assault.

However guilty he may be for that, the reason he's being pursued, tried by hyperbole by British and U.S. officials and possibly extradited for trial is because he published things the U.S. government didn't want him to publish, which is not a crime.

Stealing the information might be a crime, but publishing it isn't.

The Supreme Court established that with the Pentagon Papers case.

Still, people are pissed.

On the left, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton described the leaks as "an attack on the world," and launched a mole-hunt to make sure there aren't any other potential whistle blowers in the wings. She did take time off to lambaste other governments for their corrupt, secretive approaches to the free publication of information they dislike, though.

The U.S. Attorney General's office is investigating whether there's a charge it can lay against Assange, because it's so unsatisfying to be able to punish only a lowly private first class for such an enormous screw-up of your own.

On the right, former Arkansas Governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee called for the death penalty for Bradley Manning, the low-level intelligence analyst who swiped the documents.

Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin said Assange should be hunted down like the leaders of al-Queda and the Taliban.

Ugly, but not relevant to IT, right?

Take another look at the way European countries treat private data and how excited they get about it.

Then wonder if your company may unintentionally be the next WikiLeaks.

“On the Internet, the First Amendment is a local ordinance,” according to an NYT story quoteing Fred H. Cate, a law professor at Indiana University.

So, depending on where you are, publishing or collecting data you consider normal could be a major violation of local law.

Google has run into trouble with that in China, Italy, and half of the rest of Europe.

Not a problem for you, though. You're not a publisher or a search engine.

Unless you have a Web site. Or send customers a lot of email in other countries.

On the Internet, everyone's a publisher; everyone stands a chance of running afoul of local laws even if they have no presence there; every company could find itself being prosecuted and having its executives arrested and extradited for collecting or publishing information they think is harmless, or that even promotes the public good.

See how that flies in court.

Kevin Fogarty writes about enterprise IT for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @KevinFogarty.

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