Bank Julius Baer v. WikiLeaks

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Bank Julius Baer v. WikiLeaks
CourtUnited States District Court for the Northern District of California
Full case nameBank Julius Baer & Co. Ltd. v. WikiLeaks et al.'
DecidedFebruary 29, 2008
Docket nos.3:08-cv-00824
Citation(s)535 F. Supp. 2d 980
Court membership
Judge(s) sittingJeffrey White

Bank Julius Baer & Co. v. WikiLeaks, 535 F. Supp. 2d 980 (N.D. Cal. 2008), was a lawsuit filed by Bank Julius Baer against the website WikiLeaks.

In early February 2008, Judge Jeffrey White of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California forced Dynadot, the domain registrar of, to disassociate the site's domain name records with its servers, preventing use of the domain name to reach the site. Initially, the bank only wanted the documents to be removed (WikiLeaks had failed to name a contact person).

The judge's actions roused media and cyber-liberties groups to defend WikiLeaks' rights under the First Amendment and brought renewed scrutiny to the documents the bank hoped to shield.

The judge lifted the injunction[1] and the bank dropped the case on 5 March 2008.[2]


In 2002, the bank learned that records pertaining to the arrangement of anonymizing trusts in the Cayman Islands for clients from 1997 to 2002 had been leaked. They interviewed the local employees with a polygraph as per company policy. The bank was unsatisfied with the answers of Cayman unit COO Rudolf Elmer, and terminated his employment. In June 2005, the leak was reported by the Swiss financial weekly Cash and The Wall Street Journal, though details of individual accounts were not reported on.[3]

According to Daniel Schmitt's analysis for WikiLeaks, leaked account data exists from after the date that Elmer left the Caymans.[4][better source needed]

On 16 January 2011, Elmer announced he would hand over offshore account details of 2,000 "high-net-worth individuals" to WikiLeaks. Then he would return to Switzerland from exile to face trial. Julius Baer says Elmer falsified the documents.[5]

Legal action, injunction[edit]

In January, Bank Julius Baer began sending cease & desist letters to WikiLeaks and its domain registrar, Dynadot, for the domain name, citing the DMCA.[6] On 18 February 2008, Judge Jeffrey White of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California issued a permanent injunction against Dynadot forcing it to lock the domain name. According to the BBC, Julius Baer asked for the documents to be removed because they could interfere with another legal case in Switzerland.[7]

Mirror sites were not affected.[7][8] A coincidental fire at the hosting company used by WikiLeaks, PRQ, centered in a high power supply regulator serving the majority of the data center, shut down and destroyed some sections of the specific DNS and dedicated hosting server racks used by WikiLeaks the same week.[9][better source needed]


The Julius Baer lawsuit drew more attention due to the Streisand effect. Julius Baer had already got an injunction against WikiLeaks, prohibiting WikiLeaks from circulating the documents that Julius Baer wanted to suppress,[10] without attracting significant attention from news media. A second injunction by Julius Baer imposed a measure drew attention that would suppress not only the information that Julius Baer considered embarrassing, but also the entire WikiLeaks website. Only 14 of these documents were pertinent to the Julius Baer case.[11]

Alternate WikiLeaks domains were unaffected, and WikiLeaks was still available directly by its IP address. To shut down these access methods, it would be necessary to pursue injunctions in the jurisdictions where they are registered, or where the servers reside, which are deliberately scattered to make this difficult.[12]

When someone said they were misidentified in a Julius Baer document as having a secret Swiss bank account Assange and Domscheit-Berg added a caveat to the document saying, "according to three independent sources" the information might be false or misleading. Domscheit-Berg later wrote that they made up the "three independent sources" and that the source had "included some background information he had researched about the bank's clients" that misidentified a Swiss account holder as a German man with a similar name.[13][14]

Injunction lifted[edit]

After the injunction was initially granted, it was successfully challenged in a joint action by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Project on Government Oversight (POGO), and Jordan McCorkle.[15][16] A similar brief was filed by Public Citizen and California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC).[16]

Another brief in support of WikiLeaks was filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), Associated Press (AP), Citizen Media Law Project, E.W. Scripps Company, Gannett Company, Inc., Hearst Corporation, Los Angeles Times, National Newspaper Association (NNA), Radio-Television News Directors Association (RTNDA), and Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) which also provided some legal funding.[16]

Judge White dissolved the injunction on 29 February 2008,[1] allowing WikiLeaks to restore its domain name.[17]

The bank dropped the case on 5 March 2008.[2]


  1. ^ a b Bank Julius Baer v. WikiLeaks, 535 F. Supp. 2d 980 (N.D. Cal. 2008).
  2. ^ a b Claburn, Thomas (March 6, 2008). "Swiss Bank Abandons Lawsuit Against Wikileaks: The wiki had posted financial documents it said proved tax evasion by Bank Julius Baer's clients". InformationWeek. Archived from the original on March 10, 2008. Retrieved March 6, 2008.
  3. ^ Taylor, Edward (June 16, 2005). "Julius Baer Says Unit's Client Data Were Stolen". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on October 4, 2013. Retrieved August 3, 2017.
  4. ^ "Clouds on the Cayman tax haven". WikiLeaks. February 15, 2008. Archived from the original on March 29, 2014. Retrieved April 6, 2014.
  5. ^ "Swiss whistleblower Rudolf Elmer plans to hand over offshore banking secrets of the rich and famous to WikiLeaks". The Guardian. January 16, 2011. Archived from the original on June 27, 2013. Retrieved December 14, 2016.
  6. ^ "Bank Julius Baer & Co. Ltd. et al. v. WikiLeaks et al". Archived from the original on June 3, 2009. Retrieved December 5, 2010.
  7. ^ a b "Whistle blower site taken offline Archived 2009-06-04 at the Wayback Machine," BBC News, Monday, 18 February 2008
  8. ^ "Swiss bank obtains injunction against whistleblower site Archived 2008-05-22 at the Wayback Machine," Director of Finance Online, 19 February 2008
  9. ^ "PRQ Fire Takes Down Several Torrent Sites * TorrentFreak". Retrieved December 19, 2022.
  10. ^ "Legal aid for whistle-blower site Archived 2015-07-02 at the Wayback Machine," BBC News.
  11. ^ "EFF, ACLU Move to Intervene in Wikileaks Case - USA". Kansas City infoZine News. October 9, 2008. Archived from the original on November 6, 2018. Retrieved October 10, 2008.
  12. ^ "Vying for Control of the Internet: Is Wikileaks Unstoppable?". The Legality. February 27, 2008. Archived from the original on March 2, 2008. Retrieved March 3, 2008.
  13. ^ Zetter, Kim. "WikiLeaks Defector Slams Assange In Tell-All Book". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved May 2, 2023.
  14. ^ Domscheit-Berg, Daniel (2011). Inside Wikileaks : my time with Julian Assange at the world's most dangerous website. Tina Klopp, Jefferson S. Chase. New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 978-0-307-95191-5. OCLC 701412231.
  15. ^ Motion to Intervene Archived 2019-12-21 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ a b c EFF, ACLU. "Bank Julius Baer & Co v. Wikileaks". Electronic Frontier Foundation. Archived from the original on May 24, 2019. Retrieved October 10, 2008.
  17. ^ "Judge reverses ruling in Julius Baer leak case". Reuters. February 29, 2008. Archived from the original on December 10, 2010. Retrieved February 29, 2008.

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