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MasterCard, Visa shut down electronic donations to WikiLeaks

By Stephen C. Webster
Tuesday, December 7, 2010 11:30 EDT
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EXCLUSIVE UPDATE: Mobile payments firm Xipwire, Inc. steps up to aid WikiLeaks

The Philadelphia, PA-based mobile payments firm Xipwire, Inc. said Tuesday that it would act as an intermediary for WikiLeaks after the world’s largest credit card providers halted all electronic donations to the non-profit media outlet.

“We do think people should be able to make their own decisions as to who they donate to,” Xipwire co-founder Sibyl Lindsay told Raw Story during a Tuesday afternoon telephone interview. “The fact that people can’t donate to where they’d like to and make that decision for themselves does bother us.”

The company has set up a page where WikiLeaks supporters can donate, saying it will waive all related fees.

“Our motivation is really simple,” Xipwire founder Sharif Aleandre explained in an email. “While people may or may not agree with WikiLeaks and the documents it has released, we feel that PayPal’s recent decision to refuse to process donations on their behalf effectively silences voices in this democracy. In fact, it was the Citizens United case that basically equated donations with free speech and if the Supreme Court decided that our government doesn’t have the power to regulate that speech then it’s our opinion that corporations certainly shouldn’t have that power either.”

Lindsay added that WikiLeaks supporters would be able to donate either via their website, or via text message if they have a Xipwire account. Current Xipwire users can text WL to 56624 to make a $10 pledge. Non-account holders who contact the number will receive a link to a page where donations can be made.

An earlier report follows

Greenwald: ‘What’s really going on here is a war over control of the Internet’

No government on the planet has declared the actions of media website WikiLeaks “illegal,” but one of the largest credit card companies in the world now has.

MasterCard Worldwide said Monday afternoon that it would block any further electronic donations to WikiLeaks, claiming they are engaged in “illegal activities” that violate the company’s terms of service.

“MasterCard rules prohibit customers from directly or indirectly engaging in or facilitating any action that is illegal,” company spokesman Chris Monteiro told C-Net late Monday.

On Tuesday morning, Visa Europe also said it would suspend payments to WikiLeaks, but did not pass judgment on the group’s legality. A Visa spokeswoman told the BBC that the firm had launched an investigation into their business with WikiLeaks and that not all payments could be stopped right away.

Thanks to the credit card carriers’ decisions, traditional postal mail now stands as WikiLeaks’ only remaining financial lifeline.

A request for comment lodged with MasterCard’s corporate public relations office, seeking elaboration on what it considers “illegal” about WikiLeaks’ actions, went unanswered.

Both credit card providers will still allow electronic donations to controversial and hate-based groups like the Ku Klux Klan, according to The Guardian.

Approximately 1 percent of the 250,000+ US State Department cables have been published online and the vast majority have been released by professional news organizations.

MasterCard has not taken similar actions against papers like The Guardian or The New York Times, which have released and described many more secret diplomatic cables than WikiLeaks.

MasterCard is only the latest corporate actor to join the fight against WikiLeaks: earlier in the week, Swiss bank PostFinance suspended an account dedicated to the legal defense of the site’s co-founder, Julian Assange. Their move followed online payments bank PayPal, owned by California-based eBay, Inc., which froze the WikiLeaks donations account and over $61,000 along with it.

After PostFinance’s revelation that they’d terminated their relationship with Assange, a group of hackers calling themselves “Operation Payback” succeeded in taking the bank’s website offline. They threatened to “fire” on any other corporate entity that attempts to censor WikiLeaks.

Similarly, Daniel Ellsberg, the man behind the so-called “Pentagon Papers” — which was the largest disclosure of secret US government information until WikiLeaks began publishing documents from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — called for free speech advocates to launch a boycott of Amazon for censoring the site.

The site also recently saw its electronic home on the Amazon.com cloud servers shut down after the online retailer was contacted by staff for Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT). Assange suggested that if Amazon was “uncomfortable” with free speech, they should stop selling books. WikiLeaks was also temporarily taken down by ostensibly state-sponsored denial of service attacks on its .org domain, but within days its online supporters responded by mirroring WikiLeaks on nearly 750 different domains.

Assange, the 39-year-old former hacker who founded the WikiLeaks media organization, was arrested in London on Tuesday on a warrant stemming from a Swedish rape investigation. Assange and his attorney have maintained that he’s innocent of wrongdoing .

In spite of Assange’s arrest, WikiLeaks said it would continue working with media partners around the world to ensure to documents continue receiving international exposure.

“Whatever you think of WikiLeaks, they’ve never been charged with a crime, let alone indicted or convicted… They’ve been essentially removed from the internet… Their funds have been frozen… Leading politicians and media figures have called for their assassination, their murder, to be labeled a terrorist organization,” attorney Glenn Greenwald told Democracy Now on Tuesday.

“What’s really going on here is a war over control of the internet and whether or not the internet can actually serve what a lot of people hoped its ultimate purpose was, which was to allow citizens to band together and democratize the checks on the world’s most powerful factions.”

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
 
 
 
 
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