Wikileaks May Be Heading Out to Sea

by Julian Ku

I don’t know how credible this report is:

WikiLeaks may soon take a page from 1960s-era British pirate radio broadcasters and move operations offshore. Financial backers of embattled WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are reportedly in the market for a boat that would maintain the watchdog site’s servers in international waters to avoid U.S. legal authorities, according to FoxNews.com.

I also don’t know how useful moving offshore would be for Wikileaks. While it would escape certain laws by operating in international waters (like Swedish laws against rape?), it would not escape many of the laws it has been worried about (like US espionage laws which are not limited to pure territorial jurisdiction).  Moreover, operating in international waters makes it easier, not harder, for another nation to detain Wikileaks people and property, since no territorial sovereignty is being violated by such a detention.  Obviously, the ship would be flagged in some country, but as a practical matter, it simply wouldn’t be much of a barrier to attempts to seize it.  I don’t think my analysis would change very much even if it was operated in one of the “Principality of Sealand,” which is not a recognized state (and has no chance of becoming a recognized state).  So, a dumb move all around for Wikileaks.

http://opiniojuris.org/2012/02/01/wikileaks-may-be-heading-out-to-sea/

4 Responses

  1. Response…
    Actually, if the ship is flying a foreign flag of State X, the ship is the equivalent of State X territory and State X would have to consent to any “law enforcement” activity on board its vessel (as opposed to self-defense targetings that constitute an “armed attack” from that vessel).  This is well-recognzed with respect to international law regarding enforcement jurisdiction (e.g., Rest. Secs. 432 and 433) and the law of the sea (e.g., regarding U.S. Coast Guard searches and seizures, arrests on a foreign flag vessel otherwise on the “high seas.”).  What casebook do you teach from?

  2. hmm! Interferences with the freedom of navigation of the vessel flagged by State X and the jurisdiction of such State authorized under international law are rather tipical. The (deceptive?) informations seems to be aimed at triggering debate about: a) broad interpretation of the outdated (in times of satcom) provisions under UNCLOS on boarding a vessel due to unallowed broadcasting and b) claims for legitimate use of force in order to prevent release of information crucial for national security.

  3. Response…  Dubito:
    Do you mean UNCLOS art. 109(2), which only applies to “radio” or “television” “broadcasts”?  Does not seem to fit.  And only some warships with “jurisidiction” under 109 can arrest.
    Do you mean UN 51 “self-defense”? that applies only “if an armed attack occurs.”
    Perhaps if State X is the flag state of the vessel or platform, there will be diplomatic pressure on State X to provide its consent to boarding and seizure and/or arrest.

  4. We may all soon need a boat-server: if we US passes the new internet laws or keeps pushing other countries (EU) to impose them.

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