Mon, Dec 06, 2010 - Page 7 News List

How the Barbra Streisand effect keeps WikiLeaks online

AFP, PARIS

Mirror sites are keeping WikiLeaks up and running despite the loss of its original wikileaks.org address, shut down by a US provider — welcome to the Barbra Streisand effect.

The elusive, intangible nature of the Internet has allowed the whistle-blowing Web site to keep a step ahead of its enemies.

After its original Web address was shut down, it was able to move to a second home at a Swiss address (http://www.wikileaks.ch/) and in less than 24 hours, dozens of mirror image sites were up and running across the Internet.

Some were set up by WikiLeaks, others by computer-savvy sympathizers determined to keep the information the Web site is leaking online.

There mirror sites are exact replicas of the contents of the original site, ensuring that the thousands of US diplomatic cables WikiLeaks has been leaking since Nov. 28 remain available for inspection.

By 4:30pm GMT several hundred WikiLeaks mirror sites were listed at one online directory (http://bluetouff.com/2010/12/03/acceder-a-wikileaks/).

As industry specialists explained, the strong libertarian sensibility shared by large parts of the online community means that any hint of censorship provokes an instant riposte designed to produce the opposite effect.

“As soon as a case of censorship blows up on the Web, a community forms spontaneously and everyone replicates everywhere,” said Gregory Fabre, a systems engineer and cofounder of the terra-eco.net site.

With information copied on to servers that could be anywhere in the world, trying to stop the information getting out is like trying to plug a leaking sieve.

This is known as the Barbra Streisand effect, said Jean-Marc Manach, a journalist specializing in Internet rights and surveillance issues.

“A few years ago, a photographer took a photo of one of the singer’s houses,” he said.

She filed a complaint for breach of her rights and tried to get the photo pulled from the Internet. Inevitably, hundreds of people responded by copying the photo on to their Web site — giving rise to the Barbra Streisand effect.

As Fabre said, many of the mirror sites could easily be the -product of individuals who have no direct connection to WikiLeaks.

“The large majority of people do it for nothing,” Manach said. “They recopy the site and put it on their server.”

“What is happening with WikiLeaks has already happened dozens of times,” he added.

“What they want to censor is thus duplicated,” he said, producing precisely the opposite effect intended by the censor.

“Nobody would ever have heard about Barbra Streisand’s house if she hadn’t tried to censor the photo,” he said.

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