WikiLeaks lashed out at Amazon.com Wednesday after it was announced that the online shopping company, whose servers were hosting the whistleblower site’s activities, would stop working with the site.
Taking to the site’s official Twitter feed, a WikiLeaks spokesman suggested that Amazon was acting in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which in part restricts the government’s ability to restrict speech.
“WikiLeaks servers at Amazon ousted. Free speech the land of the free — fine our $ are now spent to employ people in Europe,” one Wednesday post read. “If Amazon are so uncomfortable with the first amendment, they should get out of the business of selling books,” read another.
Unfortunately for WikiLeaks’ argument, Amazon is a private company that can legally sever ties with anyone it wants. If anything, the company is exercising its right to free speech and association by choosing not to work with another independent organization.
While the WikiLeaks saga does open the door for a serious debate about whether its activities — which involve publicizing secret government documents — are protected speech under the First Amendment, there is no disagreement among constitutional scholars about whether the Bill of Rights applies to private companies.
Of all people making headlines these days, WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange should know that.
UPDATE: Malou Innocent, a foreign policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, rightly points out that Amazon did not make the decision on its own:
“I would add that it was Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, who bullied Amazon into cutting Wikileaks from its server. Thus, it was partially government coercion, not private consent, that severed a business relationship.”