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Operation Payback and online war over Wikileaks

A gagged demonstrator holds placards during a protest over the arrest of the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, outside the City of Westminster Magistrates' Court in central London, on December 7, 2010.

A group of self-described "hacktivists" called Anonymous temporarily crippled MasterCard's website earlier this week, shut down a Swiss bank's online presence for most of a day, and slowed service to PayPal and Amazon.

The group says it's angry that these companies cooperated with international government efforts to cut off funding to Wikileaks and push it off the Internet.

In today's show, we hear from Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. He says a generation ago a similar debate over publishing the classified Penatgon Papers was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. But today's dispute is international and the ultimate arbiters of what Wikileaks can or cannot publish are unclear. Hackers and activists on both sides are stepping into the vacuum online and attempting use brute force to get their way.

Zittrain says the same technology that made it possible for Wikileaks to reach an international audience on a shoestring budget is making it more difficult for the organization to survive in the face of international pressure. Any one of many service providers Wikileaks depends on to stay online can end its relationship with the site for almost any reason.

You can find answers to your Wikileaks questions in Zittrain's Wikileaks FAQ blog post. Zittrain and his colleague Lawrence Lessig also moderated a discussion yesterday about Wikileaks at the Berkman Center.

We also hear from Amit Yoran, CEO of NetWitness and the former Director of National Cyber Security at the Department of Homeland Security. He says in this case, he thinks firms like Amazon and Paypal had good reason to sever their relationships with Wikileaks. He says while U.S. courts have allowed newspapers to publish classified material, that right isn't absolute.

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