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back to article WikiLeaks sues Visa, Mastercard over 'financial blockade'

WikiLeaks is suing Visa and MasterCard over their decision to suspend payment facilities for the whistleblowing website in the wake of last year's US diplomatic cables release row. The whistleblowing site and Datacell, a service provider assisting WikiLeaks, are jointly suing the credit card giants over allegedly running an " …

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FAIL

Free speech

US firms and the first amendment of the US constiution?

Or simply robber barons?

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Missing the point?

Visa and Mastercard also have the right to deny their services to whoever, whenever. Free speech is nice and all, but I can't break into your house, use your laptop to update my blog, and call it "free speech".

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IT Angle

re: free speech

Only applies to the citizens and press and their ability to talk smack about the government, without fear of reprisal. Doesn't apply to business, business relationships OR employer/employee relationships.

As for the contractual agreement between leaks and v/mc. My guess is that the contractural agreement between v/mc and wikileaks is structured in such a way that wikileaks doesn't have a leg to stand on or a pot to piss in. Not saying what v/mc did was fair or even right, but given how legitious society has become, they probably have the contract so ironclad that it would be an up hill battle for wikileaks.

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Unhappy

US

US freedom of speech or more importantly freedom of the press, seems limited to only those who actually own a press (or television network)

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It will be interesting

How this pans out. The way I see it, VISA, Mastercard etc are payment processors not moral police.

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good luck

Mastercard and Visa are private companies. If they don't want to do business with you, they don't have to. They kill thousands of accounts every day... and they don't have to say why. if you don't like it, deal with someone else.

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Go

aha

but they DO have to do business with you if they have a contract or there is law-of-the-land. I suspect that is why they are fighting in Denmark.

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Ah, but

Things work slightly differently when you have a monopoly.

They could argue it if there was some form of court order involved, but this appears to not be the case.

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Anonymous Coward

Contract limitations

If there is a contract, then either they do business with you or they break the contract. And then it comes down to what the contract says about termination.

I don't think a court can make the cc processors do business with wikileaks but they could possibly make them pay them any money owed or recompense for losses (interest on an emergency overdraft?) as a result of a unfair block placed on payments.

Personally I'd be surprised if the contract wasn't written heavily in favour of the CC however I don't believe businesses have the same protection as consumers, so unfair terms can be legit.

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Boffin

@James O'Shae: legal responsbility comes with monopoly

"Mastercard and Visa are private companies. If they don't want to do business with you, they don't have to."

My understanding of Visa and Mastercard is that these together have sufficient penetration in the market for financial networking services between banks that they are effectively a monopoly. With that comes legal responsibilities.

Your water company is probably a private company, but that doesn't mean they can cut off your water supply or block your sewers, unless they do so based upon objective criteria (e.g. non payment of bills) within the context of a legal framwork which regulates use of these powers. Much legislative and legal activity at the US federal and EU levels concern regulation of the powers of monopolies. Water, electric and gas companies tend to be regulated at the national and regional level. That's the reason for the existence of OFWAT, OFCOM etc.

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@ Copsewood

I don't believe you either can or should be able to compel a private legal person (i.e. entity) to provide non-essential services in the way you or anyone else here describes.

The basis of water company responsibility is because of their true monopoly, and thus hundreds of years of case law and water-specific statute, because of the guarantee of death from dehydration.

Nobody is stopping donors to Wikileaks (n.b. not flesh and blood but just a controversial charity or so) sending money via Western Union, or any other number of existing or would-be providers, including the postal service.

Mastercard and Visa have an absolute duty, under criminal law, not to diminish the value of their capital - whatever policies that means in practice.

It's one thing to draw an erroneous parallel between *absolute* monopoly supply of water, and private financial services provision - and another to think on what is reasonable for a private non-monopoly.

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Not relevant

Whether or not the ownership is private is irrelevent.

If you are a de facto monopoly, then you have special legal responsibilities, certainly in the US and the UK and maybe elsewhere.

What might be also interesting to the legal investigators on Wikileaks side is any suspicion of collusion which would definitely put the CC companies on the legal radar.

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Re: aha

"but they DO have to do business with you if they have a contract or there is law-of-the-land. I suspect that is why they are fighting in Denmark."

Not necessarily. If they feel their TOS have been breached there is an instant reason for breaking off. Another might be along the lines patriotism and national secrets. It's interesting to see how desperate Juleth has become. Hopefully he'll get a bloody nose, along with the one he ought to receive on the glorious twelfth, when he's told that a European arrest warrant cannot be stopped just to suit his vainglorious pleasure. Then we'll find out whether or not he is a rapist. As to the Denmark scam, they too are members of NATO.

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Big Brother

@Danny14

No, they don't have to do business with you when you violate the terms of the contract, or if Visa wants to exercise their out clause.

Have you ever read a bank's contract, or one of your credit card's contracts?

They can change the rules at any time.

Wikileaks is going to burn through a lot of capital just to save face.

But then again, what's going to happen when Assange gets sent off to Sweden and then is past his 15min of fame?

Is he going to go the distance of trying to become a E list celeb?

Big brothers are all watching. And they have time on their side.

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WTF?

@skelband

Using quasi-legal terms out of context doesn't work. There is no such thing as a quasi-monopoly. Ok there is, however not in the context of your post. A company isn't a monopoly until it has been determined by the courts to in fact be a monopoly and once determined to be a monopoly, then the laws change.

A company can take action which legal under the law while the same action undertaken by a monopoly would be deemed illegal.

VISA, Amex, Discover, MC among others are in a highly regulated industry and none have been found to be monopolies even when there have been investigations in to some of their activities that were found to be anti-competitive like exclusivity deals w banks.

With respect to Wikileaks... When you play with fire, expect two things... One you will get burned... Two... You may become too hot to handle.

Since there is no monopoly, refusing to do business w Wikipedia isn't illegal and canceling any contract with them would fall to what was stipulated in the contract. These types of contracts always favor the CC house.

There is no collusion.

Suppose you bought a house in a well known flood plain. You try to get flood insurance from various insurance companies. They all turn you away. Just because you can't get insurance doesn't mean that the insurance companies colluded against you.

Same thing for Wikileaks.

Btw, when you attack the US, and also make threats against a major US bank (B of A), you should realize that you are going to face certain repercussions...

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Pirate

It will be interesting!

Jim,

It is obvious that some heavyweight in Washington leaned on them and they obliged .

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Re: @Danny14

He wasn't brought up to follow rules, and it seems that he will not even now. Perhaps he does not understand them. This may well be the beginning of the final crash and burn phase, with Mercurial Jules fretting over how most of the world doesn't understand him.

Did you see the BBC video article on the automatically tripped camera speed sensors on the roads outside of his temporary domicile, and how Jules and his band of camp followers thought they had been installed by men in black vans/helicopters for the purposes of (gasp) spying on him? It would seem that these innocent, motion sensor speed warning signs were there long before he and his insightless caravan arrived.

There are only seven days left before he hears whether or not there is just cause to overturn a valid European arrest warrant, having fled the country of its origin. If there is not, I'm sure that he will "thqueeem and thqeeem and thqueeeem" [with acknowledgements to Richmal Crompton; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richmal_Crompton ].

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No axe to grind, honest

"Not necessarily. If they feel their TOS have been breached there is an instant reason for breaking off. Another might be along the lines patriotism and national secrets. It's interesting to see how desperate Juleth has become. Hopefully he'll get a bloody nose, along with the one he ought to receive on the glorious twelfth, when he's told that a European arrest warrant cannot be stopped just to suit his vainglorious pleasure. Then we'll find out whether or not he is a rapist. As to the Denmark scam, they too are members of NATO."

Firstly, patriotism is a polite way way of saying nationalism. Given that Visa & MC promote themselves as international entities then they are, by definition, not able to demonstrate nationalistic tendancies and their TOS's are unable to define such eventualities.

Secondly, whatever happens with JA is irrelevent. These companies made agreements to collect monies on behalf of a 3rd party. They are not then allowed to collect the money but not pass it on, not collecting is allowed but that is not what has happened here. The CC companies have put themselves in a political position of penalising both a politically sensitive organisation and anyone who supports that organisation by taking monies from supporters then refusing to pass it on the intended beneficiary.

Irrespective of your view of that organisation, collecting but not passing when promoting themselves as a dis-interested 3rd party on is both immoral and illegal. If it is found that these companies have bowed to pressure that they claimed was not an issue then they should be forced to cease trading. Financial institutions require trust and this sounds, on the face of it, to be a fundamental betrayal of that trust.

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Law of tort?

"Have you ever read a bank's contract, or one of your credit card's contracts?

They can change the rules at any time."

Unfortunately, this is not true - in Europe anyway.

When you sign a contract, so long as there is contribution from both sides, a contract can only be changed by agreement from both sides. Any attempt for a unilateral change of terms leaves the contract null and void with any outstanding dues becoming instantly payable, within reasonable limits.

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Apples and oranges...

"Suppose you bought a house in a well known flood plain. You try to get flood insurance from various insurance companies. They all turn you away. Just because you can't get insurance doesn't mean that the insurance companies colluded against you."

To follow the analogy, in this case an insurance company HAS provided flood insurance and then decided that the risk was greater than they had calculated and is backing out of the deal. Immoral business.

Your analogy falls because CC companies are not good risk assessors, unlike insurers (for whom risk assessment is the basis of their business), and try to back out of deals they then find are not in their interest. This is an immoral business practice and should not be encouraged p whatever you view of Wikileaks or JA

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Mushroom

@Jim Bob

You want to change the analogy to say that the insurance company has been providing coverage and then backs out? Happens all the time.

What they can't do is stop providing service in mid contract.

So once your annual contract is over, they can decide to stop providing insurance. Immoral? Hardly.

This is why there's a national flood insurance to help those who own homes in Flood plains. Even with the national insurance, many home owners don't have coverage.

The analogy doesn't fail. Visa is actually very good at their risk analysis.

You're view of morality is an interesting one. Stopping to offer coverage in a state because of a change in the business climate isn't moral or immoral. What would be immoral would be for an insurance company delaying or failing to pay out a valid claim. That is immoral and unconscionable, yet it happens all the time. Having an insurance company playing doctor and saying what meds they will cover and what they won't is also immoral. Again totally different things.

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@Jim Bob

The T's and C's of the contract depend on the parties agreeing to the contract.

With respect to CC to Consumer... they can change the contracts at any time. Of course there are restrictions and limitations placed on the CC companies by law.

With respect to corporate contracts... you'd be surprised at what some people toss in to contracts, enforceable or not.

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Monopoly?

The fact that it's VISA and Mastercard instantly states that it's not a monopoly., especially with other payment methods around. Just to name the obvious: American Express, paypal, google checkout.

At the end of the day, unless there is a contract involved, they don't have to deal with them. You may not agree with their reasons, but VISA and MC can deal with whoever they like.

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Paypal

What about adding Paypal to this ? ... They are just sitting on the money.

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Lets see how this plays out

This will be interesting to watch play out.

I have to say though, If I was VISA/Mastercard, I'd probably have done the same thing. There's still ongoing legal issues over the information that Wikileaks is releasing. Why even risk getting yourself mixed up in that?

It's just good business sense to pull away from Wikileaks.

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Good policy

There's legal issues over stuff sold on Ebay happening every day. Maybe Paypal should distance from that as well.. oh wait.

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Because.

What the organisation is up to is none of their business unless it directly affects them, which is doesnt. At least thats the escuse they use when they provide services to the likes of the Syrians, Mossad and the Saudi's.

You cant get away with double standards when your a monopoly.

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But what drives business sense?

"It's just good business sense to pull away from Wikileaks."

There's something bigger here though, because it depends on what the cost to the business actually is and where it's coming from, which ties right into the whole mission of WikiLeaks

I agree that it was a business decision to stop supporting WikiLeaks (certainly not some kind of ethical decision!), but it's what guided that decision that's critical.

It's very possible that senior management in one company believed customers would abandon them in droves if the brand would became associated with WikiLeaks and all the complications that might come from that, as you say. One company went, the other immediately followed. This makes sense, and no conspiracy is needed to explain their behaviour

But I think we can all agree that the US government has a strong track record in shady manipulation to suit its interests, which is the kind of WikiLeaks was set up to expose. It would be typical behaviour - more of the same - if the US government & other vested interests had put pressure on Visa & Mastercard and threatened real consequences on them if they didn't cut off the money. It's a legitimate worry if this was the real cause of the Visa/Mastercard decision.

I personally think Visa & Mastercard have done damage to their brands with this

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Boffin

@5.antiago not even close...

Look, you can spin all of your conspiracy theories, but the truth is much simpler and a better story.

It's all a matter of risk and the law. Post 9/11, anti money laundering, anti terror laws require that the CC houses crack down on companies, not for profits, etc... That may have ties to terrorist organizations.

Now you have Wikileaks. Has Wikileaks been accused of illegal activities? YES, however, they have yet to have been charged. Wikileaks solicits funds from their supporters. How well has Assange and company kept their records?

Wikileaks has attacked US finacial shops. B of A generates lots of revenue for the CC companies. How much does Wikileaks generate?

Yes you are correct that the US can apply pressure to the CC companies. Yet you are wrong in saying that they are doing anything illegal or nefarious. The laws which have not yet been applied have been on the books in not only the US but also the other G8 countries long before Wikileaks got created.

When you add it all up, Wikileaks is bad for business and not worth the potential risk.

So they get dropped.

No pressure, no phone calls from the President. It's just S.O.P

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@ Ian

Credit card networks don’t just “drop” customers, it's not SOP. E.g. famously, they didn’t stop you donating to white supremacists or other similarly dodgy organisations with your credit card. There has to be a big reason to drop a customer.

We agree roughly on the central point: “When you add it all up, Wikileaks is bad for business and not worth the potential risk.” That’s actually pretty close to what I said the first time. But I’m interested in knowing exactly why they thought WikiLeaks was so very bad for business that they needed to take such drastic steps (BTW, I’m not calling it illegal)

I initially proposed that it could be because they didn’t want to be tangled with the national security complications; if this is the case then I feel it’s an overreaction which will damage their brands. Then I mentioned that given the establishment’s track record in many areas, I understand why some people are concerned. (This bit you called my conspiracy theory. It’s not my theory). But your own theory is an even better one, and becomes a nice “conspiracy theory” itself.

Shouldn’t you be interested in knowing why financial institutions believe an “attack” by WikiLeaks would cause so much damage that they’ve got to get their strikes in first? Shouldn’t you be interested that credit card networks are doing their part to shut down an organisation that you admit yourself isn’t technically illegal? According to your theory, financial institutions are just drawing the wagons around, SOP. But since the WikiLeak “attack” will be a release of their *own internal documents* which are sent in by internal whistle-blowers, shouldn’t you be interested in why they are reacting so aggressively?

So what’s in those documents that’s going to blow everyone away?

I think you should be interested in that, that’s all

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@ 5.antingo

Yes, CC companies do drop companies all the time and yes its S.O.P when said companies pose a risk to their business or violate ToS.

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@ Ian

No, they may drop customers quickly when they are credit risks but they do not drop merchants so easily. Did you not notice, this is *worldwide* news? A lot of people see this as unprecedented, and are alarmed by the implications. To dismiss this as SOP is to ignore the elephant in the room

You've skipped over my point too. Why exactly does WikiLeaks pose a business risk to credit card networks?

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Rolling over for Liberman

That both of these companies, along with PayPal, rolled over when a US Senator demanded action does not work for me.

The Wall Street arm of the US financial serial offender nearly bankrupts the US and most of the rest of the world and they are still everyone's best friend.

The Credit Card arm of the US financial serial offender cuts off access when ordered to by a US Senator and they are still everyone's best friend.

It seems to me that the rest of the world ought to have a say in how its financial institutions are run that is independent of the US financial serial offender.

With all the dire warnings of deaths that would result from Wikileaks, what has actually happened?

A lot of politicians outed for their private remarks.

Have any of the chicken littles apologized for use of scare tactics?

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I'm sure....

..there is a clause buried deep that allows them to terminate at anytime, usually a "bringing into disrepute" clause.

And don't get consumer law mixed up with business law, standard get out of unfair contract laws do not apply.

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«... slavering Scandinavian lawyers ...»

Good to see the Reg standing up, as ever, in favour of both alliteration and the endangered rights of payment brokers like Visa and Master Card to deny their customers the opportunity to contribute to an organisation in disfavour with the US government, with nary a court order to that effect ! Free speech, as long as it supports the polictical and military establishment. The Reg on the barricades !...

Henri

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Stop

Oh do behave.

What is at stake isn't free speech, it's the right to keep secrets.

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WTF?

No, it is a free speech issue!

Have an unpopular opinion? See your ability to raise donations cut off by the two largest payment processor networks.

Today its Wikileaks, tomorrow a criminal rights group? The EFF? A legal/rights reform group? A political party? A news organisation that refuses to drop a story that upsets a government?

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Anonymous Coward

Nearly

It's the right to keep secrets to cover up war crimes, corruption, fraud and generally lying to the very people the governments nominally represent.

Glad you're okay with that.

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re: Nearly

But all those important areas are already staunchly protected by legislation which protects reporting in the public interest.

Do you deny governments require a degree of secrecy in order to function?

And I'm sorry but in terms of lying to the electorate, yes, I sympathise hugely with this frustration, but it's almost always known as "speaking to your voter base", and I don't think wikileaks can change that: we're in a divided country, electorally, where one half thinks the other half's party is a bunch of liars. And I doubt any expose will in a million years shift those entrenched instincts about the untrustworthiness of the other side politically: it may be down to *brain chemistry*.

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Meh

re: No, it is a free speech issue!

In your favour, if the world + dog agreed with you, then, yes, you could say you were right, because the boycott of Visa etc would be so powerful it would be a business problem. But I don't think the world really does agree with you - a few people but not many. So you and others whip up the rhetoric in the hope of changing the 'reality on the ground'.

But it's not supported by the facts, it's a fantasy case, really: Visa etc making their private decision not to provide services, isn't direct censorship. It's too remote.

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@Chad

I don't recall the last time the EFF broke the law.

Since you're an expert on this, could you please refresh my memory?

That's kind of the point.

This isn't a free speech issue or one of government oppression of Wikileaks.

It's a matter of risk vs reward. A simple matter of business. Wikileaks just isn't worth the risk and if you read the CC firm's contract, they probably violated a ToS.

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@ Ian

Never said the EFF broke the law. Come to thing about it, neither did Wikileaks. Mr Manning may have, but Wikileaks is not subject to US Law.

Just that the EFF sometimes have unpopular opinions, just like Wikileaks, If enough high powered people press Visa/MC to cut off the EFF... Then what happens.

See also: First they came for the communists.

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@ Ian Again

Also, IIRC Wikileaks has no contractual agreement with Visa and MC. The people that provided them with a merchant account does - and this company did not cite any breach of contact.

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Good to know

that my donation to WikiLeaks is being spent on furthering their cause and not on lining the pockets of gutter filth litigation lawyers.

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Pirate

You're Next?

This is a 'part' of the reason that cash, or equivelant, is so important in a capatilist society. When cash gets pushed aside and you are basically forced to use plastic for transactions, the plastic companies can control what you can and can't do based on the application of their own, flexible, moral code.

The day isn't too far off when a politician won't be able to accept plastic donations because they support a law that's 'unfair' to the CC firms. It's not too far of a leap from there where individual donors to said politician won't be able to use plastic either. Bad juju man. Bad juju.

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Boffin

Huh?

You raise an interesting point, however don't confuse it by attaching it to the Wikileaks thing...

To answer your point... Governments like CC and debit card transactions in that they are traceable. Cash transactions are not.

If I expense a $40.00 cab ride from OHare to downtown Chicago, and I pay cash, can you prove I actually took a cab and didn't pay $2.50 for a ride on the Blue line in to the city? If I paid with a credit card, you would know...

It's the same thing w corporate expnse reports... But let's not go there because managers frown on creative accounting...

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Boffin

I dont have to

You don't provide the receipt, it's out of pocket.

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Is this why we still have no news of the leaks about that US bank?

Sorry for being impatient. They made the announcement over six months ago that it would be revealed Soon™.

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FAIL

Must be that time again

Sandy's coming up for another appeal.

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Check out the wikileaks mastercard ad parody

Type "wikileaks mastercard" into your favourite video site. Wikileaks created a great parody of the Mastercard ad's.

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