Human Rights First Seeks Answers From Amazon in Wake of Wikileaks Drop

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Brenda Bowser Soder
bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org
O -202/370-3323, C – 301/906-4460

Human Rights First Seeks Answers From Amazon in Wake of Wikileaks Drop

WASHINGTON - Human Rights First today urged Amazon to make clear the decision making process that led to the dropping of Wikileaks from its servers and to share with the public which parts of the United States government contacted Amazon with the request to halt service. In a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino warned that failure to publicly disclose the company's process for determining how and whether to comply with government demands to control access to information and online speech could negatively affect efforts to defend those rights around the world.

News reports have stated that Amazon's decision to drop Wikileaks came in the wake of questions from congressional staff employed by Senator Joseph Lieberman, who later stated, "The company's decision to cut off WikiLeaks now is the right decision and should set the standard for other companies WikiLeaks is using to distribute its illegally seized material." He also indicated that he plans to ask Amazon additional questions about the affair.

In her letter to Bezos, Massimino noted, "Recently, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton championed Internet freedom as a ‘Fifth Freedom,' as important to the struggle for human rights as freedom of expression, freedom of worship and freedom from want and fear. But just as repressive regimes violated their citizens' rights of free speech and expression in FDR's day, today they restrict access to information online."

She continued, "Amazon may very well have complied with its own terms of service in dropping Wikileaks. And reasonable people can disagree about whether Wikileaks has violated the law by publishing classified information. But, the stakes are too high for companies to act with anything but the utmost concern for due process and transparency in making crucial decisions about how and whether to comply with government demands to control access to information and online speech. So that these concerns can be adequately considered by all of us who have a stake in defending freedom of expression, I urge you to make clear the decision making process that led the dropping of Wikileaks from Amazon's servers and to share with the public which parts of the United States government contacted Amazon with the request to halt service."

In making her case, Massimino noted that on Wed., Dec. 1, the Chinese government blocked access to the Wikileaks documents with its firewall. Similarly, Egypt restricted access to new technology in the lead up to this Sunday's flawed parliamentary elections, and Iran is notorious for its restrictions on its citizens' online speech and association. She stated that these examples, and the many more like them, demonstrate the urgent need for companies to recognize that their decisions and responses to government requests have consequences around the globe.

"With the holiday gift giving season approaching, undoubtedly the last thing Amazon wants to see is customers concerned by talk of boycotts, possible legal issues, and political uproar. However, like information technology companies the world over facing government requests to censor or restrict online activity, your company's actions affect the rights of millions of individuals today and will help determine whether the Internet of tomorrow lives up to its promise to provide people with greater freedom to express themselves and organize or, instead, becomes simply another forum where governments exercise unjust control over the rights of their citizens. ... I urge you to recognize that the policies Amazon adopts with respect to decisions to in the United States will have consequences all over the world."

For more information, please read the full text of Massimino's letter. To arrange an interview with a member of Human Rights First's team, please Brenda Bowser Soder at 202-370-3323.

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Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.

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