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The slow financial strangulation of WikiLeaks

The slow financial strangulation of WikiLeaks by the major credit card institutions Mastercard, Visa and online payment giant PayPal, has certainly harmed the whistleblower organisation’s capacity to embarrass the world’s governments. And it has demonstrated the strong identity of interest between some of the world’s most important financial intermediaries and the US Government.

The companies have never adequately explained why they have shut down donations to the WikiLeaks, given the lack of criminal charges against it. It cannot be because of illegality: no charges have yet been filed against WikiLeaks or its staff relating to the material it has revealed, let alone proven. Indeed, illegal activity is not normally a bar to using the companies’ payments systems — as Bernard Keane showed last year, all three companies facilitate donations to Israeli settlement activity that is illegal under international law and even, in many cases, illegal under Israeli law. Because of the size and scope of these corporations, and the status of Mastercard and Visa as key intermediaries in the world’s financial system, there is no mechanism for holding them to account for what are, plainly, wholly inconsistent approaches to who can use their services and who cannot.

Instead, these companies persist in acting as arms of the US Government, carrying out its proxy war on WikiLeaks in the absence of any charges against the organisation or its staff, and in the absence even of a trial for the alleged leaker of the diplomatic cables. It establishes the precedent for an extra-legal, non-transparent, extra-territorial attacks by governments, operating through private corporations beyond the scope of normal accountability processes.

As Guy Rundle points out today, it also has implications that extend far beyond the whistleblowing group, to any credit card carrying citizen, and the choices they make when it comes to what they spend their money on. Suddenly the humble cheque book doesn’t seem so old fashioned.

8
  • 1
    Posted Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    I bet they didn’t block payments of duped shareholders and customers of Enron, or any number of other failed and illegally operated US corporations.

    I would change my credit card in a snap if it were practical.

  • 2
    Bob the builder
    Posted Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Apart from its other manifest services to democracy, Wikileaks has served to expose the power structures that undermine our democracies. It’s all happy smiles and triple bottom-line accounting when there’s no meaningful threat, but the shutters come down pretty quick when someone poses a meaningful threat to their power.
    Re: cheques. A point badly made - there’d be no reason the banks couldn’t refuse to honour cheques made out to Wikileaks.

  • 3
    Meski
    Posted Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    @Bob: there are a lot more banks issuing cheques around the world than there are CC companies. MC Visa Amex Diners (although the latter 2 didn’t block, Wikileaks didn’t support them (as is often the case with Amex and Diners))

    Looking up the wikileaks site, it appears you can donate via eftpos payment. Yes, that easy. Perhaps Julia and the ATO wouldn’t see the funny side of claiming them as charitable donations though.

  • 4
    Bob the builder
    Posted Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    @Meski Fair enough - but that isn’t intrinsic to the technology though (CC vs. cheque) is it?
    Interesting how enfeebled the population has become! - can’t click through credit cards details = 95% donations lost. A few more clicks and you can EFTPOS, but hardly anyone is doing that…. unless I’m missing something technical….

  • 5
    Bob the builder
    Posted Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    @ myself - whoops!
    Rundle makes this point exactly.

  • 6
    Jean
    Posted Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    Somebody was trying to overthrow the evil US capitalist crypto-fascist system and the evil US capitalist crypto-fascist system fought back- using dirty tactics, too.
    Jeeze, who would have thought?

  • 7
    AR
    Posted Tuesday, 25 October 2011 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    This vulnerability is inevitable when it threatens power structures but the entire Intertube concept is surely the most brittle of all edifices, as shown in the ME. Apart from simply shutting it down or slowing to dial-up speed by autocracies, there is nothing to stop Conroy’s NetNanny adding any annoying site to its secret black list.

  • 8
    Meski
    Posted Wednesday, 26 October 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    @Bob: I think why merchants are generally reluctant to use EFT transfer like this, is that it involves publishing their BSB/Account number. Compare it to PayPal, where the published info is an email address, with a third party (PayPal) keeping the account details.

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