Predictably, the censorship attempt backfired as netizens posted the IP address of Wikileaks, whose servers were unaffected. Press groups, the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, among others, filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the case, which brought more attention to Wikileaks than any of its previous -- and more spectacular -- document leaks.
The judge in the case soon reversed himself, and Julius Baer, which declined to comment on Wikileaks, dropped the suit, realizing that the attempt to censor brought more attention to the documents than if they had just ignored it.
Wikileaks's core strength -- its distributed and seemingly phantom-like presence on the net -- has yet to be tested legally or technically. The domain name owner lives in Kenya and purposely doesn't know much about Wikileaks. The site, which looks to be hosted from a server in Sweden, has multiple mirrors around the world.
One of Wikileaks' advisers, security expert Ben Laurie, doesn't even know who runs the site -- other than Assange -- or where the servers are.
That secrecy lets Wikileaks stay online even when one of its domain names is shut down. Similarly, it has thwarted efforts by the Church of Scientology to have a document removed using U.S. copyright law.
Wikileaks' assertion of freedom from the world's laws is reminiscent of the early days of net rhetoric -- much of which has fallen away as governments learn to use laws and filters to impose at least some national standards on the net.
For instance, in 2000, France succeeded in forcing Yahoo to ban Nazi paraphernalia auctions. And repressive regimes like China have used sophisticated tools and economic clout to censor the net.
If Assange is unflustered by criticism of Wikileaks, he acknowledges that one of its founding ideas has not panned out. As conceived, Wikileaks would employ an army of volunteers to collaboratively evaluate the documents it leaks -- that's the "wiki" in Wikileaks. But despite the site's growing reputation and its emergence as a cause celebre on the net, nobody's shown much interest in poring over pages of documents that reveal the world's secret workings.
Instead that work of vetting and analyzing documents has fallen to academics, journalists and Wikileaks' own staff, including Assange. Now Wikileaks is planning to drop the wiki model entirely. In the future, it plans to pre-release selected documents to investigative journalists, then publish them once a story appears. That gives the favored reporters time to analyze and verify documents without fear of being scooped.
Assange is even toying with the idea of making his site a subscription service that pre-releases secret documents to paying reporters. The reporters would have the option of writing about a given leak, or passing on it and getting another, if the reporter doesn't find it useful.
The change is partly due to economics, he says. Academics and journalists are among the few who have time to spend poring over documents. It's also partly because people online seem more inclined to comment on something that's already been analyzed, than analyze it themselves, says Assange.
That change pleases Aftergood.