Wikileaks NDA threatens associates with $20 million fine for leaking Wikileaks info; US grand jury under way in Virginia

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange holds up his Sydney Peace Prize after receiving the award at the Frontline Club in London May 10, 2011. Assange, who infuriated Washington by publishing thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic cables, was given a peace award in London on Tuesday for "exceptional courage in pursuit of human rights". (REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth)


The New Statesman today published what it identified as non-disclosure agreement from Wikileaks (PDF) presented by Julian Assange to Wikileaks associates. In a blog post, David Allen Green of The New Statesman picks apart the NDA, and describes it as a "draconian and extraordinary legal gag," which is "ludicrous," "astonishing," and "undoubtedly unenforceable."

Kevin Poulsen at Wired News, who has been covering the Wikileaks story since the start, has a less breathless article up at wired.com.

The confidentiality agreement (...) imposes a penalty of 12 million British pounds—nearly $20 million—on anyone responsible for a significant leak of the organization's unpublished material. The figure is based on a "typical open-market valuation" of WikiLeaks' collection, the agreement claims.

Interestingly, the agreement warns that any breach is likely to cause WikiLeaks to lose the "opportunity to sell the information to other news broadcasters and publishers."

WikiLeaks is not known to have sold any of its leaked material, though Assange has discussed the possibility in the past. The organization announced in 2008 that it was auctioning off early access to thousands of e-mails belonging to a top aide to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, but the auction ultimately fell apart. Also protected by the agreement is "the fact and content of this agreement and all newsworthy information relating to the workings of WikiLeaks."

IANAL, but here's what this sounds like to me in plain language: Wikileaks associates who sign the NDA are by doing so prohibited from "leaking" the contents of the NDA, or the very existence of the NDA. The agreement also prohibits them from talking to anyone outside the organization about any of the organization's inner goings-on. And, the agreement bans handing off not-yet-leaked Wikileaks "dumps" to, say, news outlets that aren't current publishing partners. If you're a Wikileaks team member and you've signed the NDA, and you do any of this, you face a possible $20 million dollar fine. Pretty harsh if the document is legit, and Wikileaks hasn't denied that it is.

This, from the New Statesman, likely sums up how critics of Wikileaks will interpret this unusually strict confidentiality agreement:

All this legalese can only mean that WikiLeaks takes the commercial aspect of selling "its" information seriously: there would be no other reason for this document to have such precise, onerous and unusual provisions. On the basis of this legal gag alone, it would be fair to take the view that WikiLeaks is nothing other a highly commercially charged enterprise, seeking to protect and maximise its earnings from selling information that has been leaked to it. If so, WikiLeaks is nothing other than a business.

Related news today: The Guardian reports that the first session of a United States grand jury hearing involving Wikileaks "is understood to have begun in Alexandria, Virginia, with the forced testimony of a man from Boston, Masachusetts. The unidentified man was subpoenaed to appear before the panel." Sources close to the story, namely Wired reporter Kevin Poulsen, say that in fact the grand jury has been at it for months already, and was empaneled in 2010.

And, via various sources: The official "Wikileaks Defence Fund" is reported to be more specifically the fund which will be used to defend Mr. Assange in his personal legal matters involving accusations of sexual assault in Sweden. Given the fund's title, this may come as a surprise to donors.

(via Submitterator, thanks Bevatron Repairman)