The £12m question: how WikiLeaks gags its own staff

“A typical open market valuation.”

This blog has previously described the bizarre legal world of WikiLeaks where, for example, the organisation claims some form of commercial ownership over the information that has been leaked to it.

Today, the New Statesman can reveal the extent of this legal eccentricity as we publish a copy of the draconian and extraordinary legal gag that WikiLeaks imposes on its own staff.

Clause 5 of this "Confidentiality Agreement" (PDF) imposes a penalty of "£12,000,000 – twelve million pounds sterling" on anyone who breaches this legal gag.

This ludicrous – and undoubtedly unenforceable – amount is even based on "a typical open-market valuation" for the leaked information that WikiLeaks possesses.

This phraseology is consistent with WikliLeaks's perception of itself as a commercial organisation in the business of owning and selling leaked information. Indeed, there is no other sensible way of interpreting this penalty clause.

Other parts of the legal gag are just as extraordinary. The second recital paragraph, "B", provides that – like a superinjunction – the fact of the legal gag itself is subject to the gag.

So is "all newsworthy information relating to the workings of WikiLeaks". On the face of it, even revealing one is under this agreement could result in a £12m penalty, as would sharing information on how the directors conduct the organisation.

The fifth recital paragraph, "E", is just as astonishing. It purports to extend what WikiLeaks can sue for beyond any direct loss that it might suffer if the gag is breached. WikiLeaks says it can sue for both "loss of opportunity to sell the information to other news broadcasters and publishers" and "loss of value of the information".

All this legalese can only mean that WikiLeaks takes the commercial aspect of selling "its" information seriously: there would be no other reason for this document to have such precise, onerous and unusual provisions.

On the basis of this legal gag alone, it would be fair to take the view that WikiLeaks is nothing other a highly commercially charged enterprise, seeking to protect and maximise its earnings from selling information that has been leaked to it. If so, WikiLeaks is nothing other than a business.

One suspects that the various brave and well-intentioned people who have provided the leaked information would be quite unaware of – and perhaps horrified by – the express commercial intentions of WikiLeaks, as evidenced by this document.

However, for some time it has been apparent that WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, have had a "pick'n'mix" attitude to legal obligations. They seem to feel free from any restrictions in respect of confidentiality and official secrecy; but on the other hand they make routine legal threats, especially against the Guardian, so as to uphold their perceived rights to their supposed commercial "property" – leaked, sensitive information. Abidance by the law is, it would seem, something for other people.

And, as the legal gag shows, WikiLeaks sought to use the full force of the law to deter or punish anyone who leaks against it – to the tune of £12m a time.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and is a practising media lawyer. He was shortlisted for the George Orwell Prize for blogging in 2010.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

Getty
Show Hide image

Welcome to the new New Statesman website

We've had a makeover. We hope you like it!

In the past five years, the New Statesman website has grown beyond all our expectations. In 2010, barely half a million readers a month were visiting it; now, we regularly see around two million people. The way we read on the internet has changed in that time, too – more than half the people looking at our website are now doing so using a mobile phone or a tablet rather than their desktop computer. 

To reflect this shift, we have launched a new New Statesman website. The design is simple, clean and readable, as well as being optimised for screens small and large. There is a greater emphasis on images and typography. We have made the navigation more intuitive, so that it will be easier for you to find the features, columns and reviews you enjoy in the magazine online, as well as our web-only offering of fast-paced Westminster coverage, cultural comment and opinionated blogging. Above all, it is a place for reading, free of distraction and interruption.

The credit for the new website's design should go to New Statesman's development team - Sam Hall, Chris Boyle and Zoltan Hack (Chris even designed us a cute 404 page), with input from our design editor Erica Weathers. As you might have noticed, we are now using one of our magazine fonts (Unit Slab) for headlines, plus a body type that's similar to Documenta (Merryweather). 

On the editorial side, the project was led by our web editor Caroline Crampton, who spent many hours puzzling over the perfect taxonomy. Her attention to detail has been incredible. If you would like to give us any feedback, email me or Caroline on firstname.lastname@newstatesman.co.uk

So far, it's looking great - we've tripled the number of pages per visit, and increased dwell time on articles. But any update means that some features won't work quite how they used to, so here's a quick guide to what's new.

1. Our new homepage

The new front page is now mobile-optimised, and responsive across tablet and desktop. We're still fine-tuning it, but for now we're keeping things simple: a splash, three stories of the day, and better display for our popular Westminster-focused blog, the Staggers, edited by Stephen Bush. Further down, you'll find a mix of magazine and web-first content, plus links to our most popular stories, our podcasts, and our sister site CityMetric, edited by Jonn Elledge.

On mobile, we've stripped back the homepage - so if you want more options, then click the "hamburger" in the top right to see the full menu.

 

2. A longreads section

We now have a dedicated section for magazine features, and a special template for them, too. This means a much less cluttered reading experience, with more white space - perfect if you are settling down for 6,000 words on the menopause by Suzanne Moore, or the blockbuster last interview with Christopher Hitchens by Richard Dawkins

3. This Week's Magazine

We wanted to give a better sense of what's in the magazine every week, so we've created a dedicated page (here is last week's, Isis and the new barbarism, and here is this week's, Pope of the masses). You can click the arrow and cycle through past covers, to get a sense of the breadth of our interests. You can now see what's in every section, and which pieces are available online. As a rule, we currently publish the leader and columns online in the week of print publication, but reviews and articles are held back for up to seven days. That means the best way to get all our magazine content as soon as possible is to subscribe to the magazine, in paper form, on Kindle or iPad.  

4. Comments

We've disabled comments for launch as the unit can be unpredictable, but they'll be back soon. You'll need to click to expand them at the bottom of stories (otherwise they would have interfered with the infinite scroll - which allows you to move on to another story once you've finished reading the first one). 

5. Our writers

For 102 years, of our biggest strengths has always been our world-class writers - from HG Wells to Rebecca West to Martin Amis and Christopher Hitchens. We've now created a dedicated page where you can see our regular writers, both in print and online, and find links to their entire archives. 

6. Podcasts

As well as the main New Statesman podcast - which offers politics, culture and foreign affairs - Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz have recently launched SRSLY, a podcast which takes pop culture seriously. Recent topics include fandom, graphic novels and the politics of Harry Potter. You can subscribe here, and follow SRSLY on Twitter.

7. The Staggers

We've introduced a new unit on the homepage next to the splash, for the latest stories, and you can find the our rolling politics blog The Staggers underneath it. There's room on the homepage to display the three most recently published politics articles, so if you want a more in-depth look at the day's politics coverage, bookmark The Staggers' dedicated homepage

Anyway, we hope you like the new look - any feedback, drop me or Caroline a line by email or on Twitter.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.