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Assange, Censorship, and Impropriety

December 19th, 2010

A few interesting points. First, Visa and MasterCard stopped processing payments for WikiLeaks. These companies have taken such steps in the past, such as with Russian sites selling copyrighted music for pennies a song, in which the legality of the company’s actions were in question. Visa makes an interesting case for doing so:

Visa Europe has taken action to suspend Visa payment acceptance on WikiLeaks’ website pending further investigation into the nature of its business and whether it contravenes Visa operating rules

In short, they don’t even know if WikiLeaks is doing anything illegal or not, but they’re shutting down the organization’s ability to collect money–apparently, just in case, or something.

MasterCard was more specific:

MasterCard said it was cutting off payments because WikiLeaks is engaging in illegal activity. “MasterCard rules prohibit customers from directly or indirectly engaging in or facilitating any action that is illegal,” spokesman Chris Monteiro said.

This is interesting, considering that Assange has not been convicted of a crime. As for the leaks themselves, how about the chairman of the House judiciary committee’s opinion of whether or not a crime was committed:

“As an initial matter, there is no doubt that WikiLeaks is very unpopular right now. Many feel that the WikiLeaks publication was offensive,” Conyers said, according to prepared remarks. “But being unpopular is not a crime, and publishing offensive information is not either. And the repeated calls from politicians, journalists, and other so-called experts crying out for criminal prosecutions or other extreme measures make me very uncomfortable.”

Other financial organizations have taken similar bogus stands for cutting off WikiLeaks’ financial grounding. Here’s Bank of America’s rationale:

“Bank of America joins in the actions previously announced by MasterCard, PayPal, Visa Europe and others and will not process transactions of any type that we have reason to believe are intended for WikiLeaks,” the bank said in a statement issued on Friday. “This decision is based upon our reasonable belief that WikiLeaks may be engaged in activities that are, among other things, inconsistent with our internal policies for processing payments.”

Got that? If the bank has “reasonable belief,” based on unspecified evidence, they can cut your legs out from under you. And not just payments directly made to you, but payments that they even suspect might be headed your way, even indirectly–which could potentially include payments to defense funds and the like.

The Swiss postal service has closed Assange’s account on the grounds that he gave “false indications regarding his place of residence,” something which apparently never bothered them before.

PayPal has an interesting take as well:

“PayPal has permanently restricted the account used by WikiLeaks due to a violation of the PayPal Acceptable Use Policy, which states that our payment service cannot be used for any activities that encourage, promote, facilitate or instruct others to engage in illegal activity. We’ve notified the account holder of this action.”

This is a bit more clever, as it refers to the criminality of anything that could be done with the data–and since the government has more or less restricted any of its people from reading any of the documents, the release of the information could be considered “facilitating” illegal activity. The problem is, taken to logical limits, this rationale could be applied to virtually anything you could imagine.

The entire assault on Assange and WikiLeaks is fairly obviously contrived, impelled by the U.S. government’s anger at having its internal communications revealed. However, these actions taken against Assange are troubling to say the least. The rape charges, for instance, whatever their actual truth, are obviously a pretext for reeling Assange in and getting him in a jail cell. If this is not made crystal clear by the timing of the charges, then it should be simply by the fact that international extradition treaties are usually not exercised in various directions so vigorously for similar charges of sexual misconduct. Let’s face it, we all know that if Assange had not released the documents he did he would not be facing the charges at all, nor would there be any calls for extradition. The action on the charges are at the very least opportunistic.

I am of the crowd that believes in more freedom of information release. I agree that releases such as these are more for the public benefit than anything else. While they might be embarrassing politically or diplomatically, they do more good than bad, and shed a light on the inner workings of political systems that are badly in need of light being shed. Too much goes on under cover of secrecy which in the full light of day would be clearly recognized as illicit or illegal.

The fact that Assange and his organization are being persecuted in such indirect and questionable ways only cements the impression that it is the U.S. government, and not Assange, which has acted improperly.

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