Amazon’s recent decision to pull Wikileaks from of its servers has sparked a heated debate. I think one of the main points that’s been confused is Amazon’s legal versus ethical obligations. Here’s my attempt to sort these out:
Legally the argument is simple. Amazon forbids the hosting of documents that a client does not “own or otherwise control all of the rights to.” Wikileaks did not (or so let’s hope) write the Department of State diplomatic cables and so they’ve clearly violated the Terms of Service (TOS) to which they agreed when they signed up for an account. A clear TOS violation. Suspend the account. End of story.
Ethically the argument falls into a gray area, and I think your opinion on the matter is intrinsically tied to the value you put on the cables. If you consider the cables nothing more than someone’s stolen personal property, then again Amazon is right not to be an accessory to theft. On the other hand, if you consider the cables as information that’s illuminating a greater social injustice, then the argument gets trickier.
Say, for example, a North Korean soldier leaks stolen government documents detailing a network of heretofore unknown hard labor camps, and posts these docs on Amazon’s server. Some would argue that for Amazon to take down his site out of respect for the property rights of the North Korean regime would be at best, ethically questionable and at worst, aiding and abetting a large social injustice.
Now whether you believe the Wikileaks documents illuminate any social injustice well, that opinion’s yours to form ;)
The TOS you reference is pretty clear-cut.
The other TOS mentioned in the Amazon post: “that use of the content you supply … will not cause injury to any person or entity” on the other hand is far more subjective and in effect means Amazon becomes an editorial gatekeeper of sorts for content stored on its cloud.
Regardless of where you come down on the ethical question, it does seem that this sort of information sharing will become a part of the diplomatic landscape moving forward. There’s no turning back and diplomacy will evolve accordingly.