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.