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Amazon Kicks WikiLeaks Off Its Cloud

Amazon Web Services is on longer hosting WikiLeaks -- the 250,000-plus classified State Department documents and cables that include disclosures about the nuclear ambitions of Iran, candid comments from world leaders and numerous other revelations of confidential matters. The United States government has condemned the Wikileaks release saying it is putting lives at risk and compromising national security.

There's a lot of debate in the blogsphere as to whether Amazon yielded to political pressure and engaged in censorship by deciding yesterday to remove the documents from its site. Senator Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., while praising Amazon for removing the documents, slammed the company for hosting them in the first place. Perhaps he's unaware that anyone with a credit card can host content or applications to Amazon and other cloud services.

"This morning Amazon informed my staff that it has ceased to host the WikiLeaks Web site," Lieberman wrote in a statement issued Wednesday by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.

"I wish that Amazon had taken this action earlier based on WikiLeaks' previous publication of classified material," Lieberman added. "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."

Lieberman went on to call on other cloud providers to immediately cut WikiLeaks off (WikiLeaks has since found cloud providers in Europe to host the material).

"WikiLeaks' illegal, outrageous and reckless acts have compromised our national security and put lives at risk around the world," he added. "No responsible company -- whether American or foreign -- should assist WikiLeaks in its efforts to disseminate these stolen materials. I will be asking Amazon about the extent of its relationship with WikiLeaks and what it and other Web service providers will do in the future to ensure that their services are not used to distribute stolen, classified information."

The stakes are high for all cloud providers but especially for Amazon. Some free speech proponents argue that cloud providers shouldn't be deciding what content to host and what to pull.

Should cloud providers become gatekeepers in determining what type of content is appropriate and what is not? While Amazon's cloud service represents a small piece of the company's core online retail business, it is not insulated from issues like this. In a blog post by Network World's Paul McNamara, he noted calls for boycotts of Amazon. He recalled the recent issue pertaining to a book for pedophiles. While Amazon decided to pull the book, it is a judgment call "which we are all free to free to agree or disagree," McNamara wrote.

Whether you think Lieberman was heavy-handed or not, cloud providers are now in an arduous position. To what degree will they have to be gatekeepers of content, code and applications?

Update (12/3/10): Amazon broke its silence late yesterday saying it did not cave to political pressure nor did DDOS attacks impact its decision to remove the WikiLeaks content from its service. Rather, WikiLeaks violated Amazon's terms of service. See Amazon Responds to WikiLeaks Reports.

What's your take on Amazon's decision and the repercussions of its actions? Drop me a line at [email protected].

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on December 02, 2010 at 11:58 AM


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