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<nettime> James Ball: The bankers' blockade of WikiLeaks must end (Guard
Patrice Riemens on Tue, 25 Oct 2011 10:10:53 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> James Ball: The bankers' blockade of WikiLeaks must end (Guardian)

bwo Eveline Lubbers
original to:

The bankers' blockade of WikiLeaks must end
James Ball, The Guardian Oct 24, 2011.

Whether you support WikiLeaks or not, the blockade by Visa, Mastercard,
Paypal and others is a sinister attack on free speech

In December 2010 three of the world's biggest payment providers, Visa,
Mastercard and Paypal, cut off funding to WikiLeaks. Ten months later,
Julian Assange has announced the whistleblowing site will suspend
operations until the blockade is lifted ? and warned WikiLeaks does not
have the money to continue into 2012 at current levels of funding.

On the surface, it appears as if the bankers' blockade ? encouraged by
several US senators, including Joe Lieberman ? may have come close to
accomplishing its goal. WikiLeaks is, for now, silenced ? though not
before publishing the full cache of 251,000 diplomatic cables, and the
files of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

The real picture is murkier. As Reuters journalist Mark Hosenball noted at
the WikiLeaks press conference, it's not clear exactly which operations
WikiLeaks has to suspend: WikiLeaks has not released a single file since
the publication of the Guantánamo Bay material ? obtained independently by
the Guardian and New York Times ? in April. The site's primary submissions
system has been offline since Daniel Domscheit-Berg and others walked away
from WikiLeaks in the summer of 2010. Assange says a replacement will be
online by the end of November.

Assange also claims WikiLeaks has over 100,000 documents waiting to be
released ? but this claim might not bear scrutiny. WikiLeaks has
previously been publicly criticised for claiming to hold five million
documents when in reality it did not, by John Young of Cryptome.org, in
whose name the WikiLeaks website was originally registered.

In reality, WikiLeaks' cupboard presently stands almost bare: Assange has
laid the responsibility for the non-appearance of a much-heralded cache of
documents relating to Bank of America on sabotage by ex-employees.
However, sources close to the site believe the real issue is more mundane:
journalists at more than one financial outlet have been given access to
review the material, and found nothing of interest.

WikiLeaks' financial claims are similarly questionable. Assange declared
the site will need $3.5m to continue operations at their current level.
Questions as to who needs $3.5m to publish nothing new in six months
aside, this figure is highly dubious.

In 2010, when the Collateral Murder video was published (and a crew flown
to Iraq), the Afghan and Iraq war logs were released, and the massive
cache of diplomatic cables was unveiled to the world, WikiLeaks spent just
?400,000. Given Assange also requested ? but was refused ? access to
WikiLeaks funds towards his bail surety, WikiLeaks' track record on
financial claims is also not unblemished.

So given WikiLeaks' status as an unreliable purveyor of financial
information, and given its operations might have crashed to a halt with or
without financial restrictions, is the banking blockade a mere non-issue?
In short, it is not. The banking blockade against WikiLeaks is one of the
most sinister developments in recent years, and perhaps the most extreme
example in a western democracy of extrajudicial actions aimed at stifling
free speech ? made all the worse by the public support of numerous people
sitting in the US House of Representatives.

Payment companies representing more than 97% of the global market have
shut off the funding taps between WikiLeaks and those who would donate to
it. Unlike many of the country's leading corporations, WikiLeaks has
neither been charged with, nor convicted of, any crime at either state,
federal, or international level.

When the Department of Justice mounted a lawsuit against Microsoft in
1998, the idea that payment companies might cut it off due to state
disapproval would rightly have been seen as ludicrous and illiberal. Yet
when payment companies do exactly this to WikiLeaks, who have never
appeared in court opposite the US state, many tacitly accept the action.

Visa, Mastercard and Paypal are none-too-choosy about who they provide
payment services for. Want to use your credit card to donate to the Ku
Klux Klan? Go right ahead. Prefer to support the English Defence League?
Paypal will happily sort you out. Prefer to give cash to Americans for
Truth about Homosexuality, who oppose the "radical homosexual agenda"?
Feel free to use your Visa, Mastercard or Paypal.

Visa and Mastercard are already inescapable. As the world becomes
ever-more digital, and cash continues its journey to obsolescence, they
will become still more pervasive. If they are allowed to cut off payment
to lawful organisations with whom they disagree, the US's first amendment,
the European convention on human rights' article 10, and all other legal
free speech protections become irrelevant.

Those who value free expression, whether they like WikiLeaks or loathe it,
should hope it wins its current battle.

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