Court Lifts Injunction Against Web Site Accused of Posting Confidential Banking Documents

Bank Julius Baer & Co. Ltd v. Wikileaks, 535 F.Supp.2d 980, 2008 WL 554721 (N.D.Cal. February 29, 2008)

Switzerland-based Bank Julius Baer sued the Web site and the registrar of the domain name, and sought an injunction against the publication on the site of allegedly forged and confidential records of Bank Julius Baer customers. The court initially entered a permanent injunction agreed to between Julius Baer and the registrar, which called for a lockdown of the domain name’s registration. The court also, at first, entered a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Web site, restraining the “display, use or dissemination of the property identified by [Bank Julius Baer] as private, personal banking information of its clients.”

In the days following the entry of injunctive relief, numerous parties seeking to be amicus curiae provided the court with additional information concerning the matter. This additional information led the court to reconsider the entry of the permanent injunction and the TRO. In an order dated February 29, 2008, the court dissolved both orders and denied Julius Baer’s motion for entry of a preliminary injunction.

Among the factors guiding the decision were the First Amendment and the efficacy of any injunction concerning the allegedly confidential banking information. The court noted the important free speech issues implicated, including the right to receive information as “a necessary predicate to . . . meaningful exercise” of free speech. It expressed concern that the previous publication of confidential information meant that “the cat is out of the bag,” and thus an injunction would be ineffective in protecting the privacy rights of the bank’s clients.

Further, the court found that the injunction in place was not the least restrictive means to achieve the plaintiff’s goals, and thus should be dissolved. On this point, the court suggested that a constitutionally-permissible injunction would call for limited redaction of information, while permitting the non-confidential parts of the documents to be displayed online.