Wikileaks exposes corporate cowardice

December 10, 2010

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

LONDON — Will Visa Europe prevent its clients from subscribing to the Guardian? Will Mastercard allege it can’t handle payments to the New York Times because its behavior is “illegal?” That would be ridiculous. Yet the two credit card giants have been the latest to cut off Wikileaks for supposed unlawful behaviour in what looks like a pandering to U.S. sensitivities. This is hardly taking a stand: they don’t go against the two influential newspapers — or their equivalent in France, Spain and Germany — which published the contents of the 250,000-odd U.S. diplomatic cables. It is corporate cowardice.

Visa Europe, which split off from the U.S. parent company before its 2008 initial public offering, and Mastercard follow the likes of PayPal, the eBay subsidiary, and Amazon, which also stopped servicing Wikileaks because of alleged breaches in their terms of service. This rush to please the U.S. government — which will enchant a few other western powers as well — is disturbing. In the absence of any legal decision — and even, so far, of any legal action — against the Wikileaks cables disclosure, the only possible explanation is that the companies thought the controversial website would be a convenient and relatively weak scapegoat that would allow them to stay on the safe side of the dispute.

One can only wonder at the sudden shock felt by all these companies when they came to the view they were part of an illegal conspiracy to shake the world to its foundations. A Swiss bank even went so far as cutting off the account of the Wikileaks founder, presumably because he gave the wrong address. As everyone knows, giving an exact and precise address is what Swiss banks have always demanded from all their customers.

Hackers are now having a field day wreaking havoc on the websites of the companies taking part in Wikileaks’ boycott. This is the price these firms have to pay for forgetting a basic rule: in a market economy, don’t rub customers the wrong way.


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The State Department should not have pressured Amazon, Paypal, Visa, and Mastercard to turn away WikiLeaks. Aside from the futility of such a move (the cat is now out of the bag), it significantly affects everyday businesses around the world which rely on established ways to get paid. The last thing they need during this holiday season is to be embroiled in politics.
As things stand now, those offended by Paypal might not use it, or its partner ebay. Those offended by Amazon, might not order the kindle. Those offended by Visa and Mastercard might use cash or checks. Worse, they may not buy much for Christmas – – even forego that planed trip, or dinner at that nice new restaurant.
And all for naught.
To be sure, the State Department is recoiling from its decision. Yet, in fear of losing face, it is paralyzed and not likely to change course. It has, however, put away the club, and as such Amazon, Paypal, Visa and Mastercard should quickly reverse course.
And the State Department might be the first to be relieved from such open defiance.

Posted by kafantaris | Report as abusive

Well it seems to me that other entities have put pressure on Paypal, VISA, Mastercard and others to prevent the free choice of Card or Account holders to support Wikileaks or any other organization of their choice. Too me that is Corporate Censorship or Fascism in its truest sense. To the best of my knowledge, I am unaware of any charges in relation to the leaks. The World Elite or Bilderbergers are moving towards a One World Government as they say as if we Joe or Jane Average Public have given them our consent. Whatever happened to Freedom of Choice or our Right to Vote? The World Elite (Bilderbergers) are assuming control of our liberties in an attempt to enslave us. If you think I am wrong did not the recent Economic Collapse in which our Retirement Funds and Government Bailout Monies were stolen without accountability or oversight and no Criminal outcome for Corporate Shills that did the bidding of the World Elite (Bankers) and oh they all received bonuses for Screwing the rest of Us out of our future Retirement and Freedoms. I bet this will not see the light of day on this site either as another form of censorship will take place. Why are they so afraid of the Truth coming out it is because they are concerned the Public will become outraged when they see the truth. Also do a search of the term “Wikileaks Collateral Video” and when you watch this Murderous Rampage that was executed by the US Military (emphasize on execution) you too will understand what is being done in the guise of Freedom and Liberty, that is why they want to Censor the truth, and have you ever wondered why these are the only payment options that you can use well because all of the potential competition has been squashed and eliminated from competing with the chosen ones. FTA

Posted by Harles5000 | Report as abusive

If nothing else Wikileaks has brought to the the surface the real face of banks, governments and other large institutions for all eyes to see. America is not our answer to democracy in the light of actions past. Wake up America!!!

Posted by Stanos-Au | Report as abusive

The illegal conspiracy alluded to in this article would be on the part of Wikileaks and their supporters.

The corporate cowardice would seem to better describe their way of doing business as well. Visa, Paypal, Swiss Bankers etc. haven’t hidden in the shadows, like the so called hacktivists and Assange have done.

Posted by gmroder | Report as abusive

One of the most disturbing consequences of the WikiLeaks affair, so far not picked up by the mainstream media, is the vulnerability of our international banking payments system, and its susceptibility to centralised control by politically or ideologically motivated entities. The decision of MasterCard, Visa and PayPal to terminate WikiLeaks’ accounts without a judicial decision, highlights the control the US can exercise over the international payments systems, and the lack of any viable alternatives. The situation will only get worse, as the UK Payments Council abolishes cheques, and society moves towards completely cashless payment methods. These are intrinsically traceable, onymous and it seems – highly controlled.

These methods have so far been considered as a positive development, in response to the threats of money laundering, tax evasion and funding of global terrorism. Yet, despite all the regulations in the area of Anti-Money Laundering in the world since 9/11, we have yet to see a credible proof that these have resulted in decrease of tax evasion, organised crime or funds available to terrorists.

It doesn’t bear thinking about the future in which the same entities that can exercise their control of the international payment system to curtail donations to a cause they disagree with today, decide to act against other causes tomorrow.

Posted by IanG | Report as abusive

Ahhh yes! The rulers of the universe.  The clock is ticking… people power, will return as a parallel to the parliamentary / democratic system of social, commercial and sovereign reform.

Posted by tonydd | Report as abusive

Nothing new here, corporatism has been a prime staple of the power structure in this country.

Posted by gmsj | Report as abusive

I think it’s pretty clear that Wikileaks has violated US law and these companies are quite capable of making that obvious judgement; publishing classified documents is a very clear violation of law.

Posted by bobespirit1776 | Report as abusive

It seems an odd situation that’ Wikileaks,’ accounts are frozen for alleged illegal activities?
As you have pointed out, are payments to say Amazon or a subscription to any international newspaper going to be stopped if they print or release any publication the administration finds embarrassing?

Posted by The1eyedman | Report as abusive

Tell no lies and you shall not be caught wrongdoing! This double standard hypocrisy is not only sad, but also enraging. Attackers of our freedom of speech should be trialled for treason and crimes against humanity, just like the Nazi’s were post WWII. We are not cows, sheep or any other form of cattle. Governments exist to serve the people, not the other way around.

Posted by nolies | Report as abusive