By Frank Moher
So 4Chan has finally found something useful to do with all its suppressed testerone and brought down the Mastercard site, in retaliation for the credit card company’s decision to stop processing donations to WikiLeaks. They’ve also apparently done some serious damage to PayPal (for the same reason), and Amazon could be next.
Good for them. While it’s hardly surprising that American corporations have run for the hills since Julian Assange began releasing his stash of secret diplomatic cables, they need to be forcefully reminded that when government and big business decide their interests overlay, it’s usually a bad thing for democracy. In fact, during the middle 20th-century, there was a name for it: Fascism. And no, not every use of the F-word is automatically hyperbolic.
We now know why PayPal did what they did. As one of its executives advised the Le Web 2010 conference in Paris this morning, the “State Department told us these were illegal activities. It was straightforward. We . . . comply with regulations around the world, making sure that we protect our brand.” Later he told TechCrunch that the government had not even intervened with PayPal directly. The company had simply seen a copy of the letter sent to WikiLeaks, in which a State Department lawyer advised that the cables “were provided in violation of U.S. law” and “as long as WikiLeaks holds such material, the violation of the law is ongoing.” Good enough for PayPal; they wouldn’t want to make anyone unhappy.
But as Mathew Ingram points out on gigaom.com, even the U.S. Justice Department is unsure whether WikiLeaks has done anything illegal. And if the U.S. does eventually decide to charge Julian Assange under the Espionage Act, there’s this little thing called due process, which, given the circumstances, would take years to play out — with every chance that in the end the charges would be tossed.
But PayPal, and Mastercard, and VISA, and Amazon can’t be bothered to wait. Of course, they haven’t yet announced they’re cutting their ties with the newspapers who’ve also published the cables, in most cases before WikiLeaks did. That would cost them real money.
The charges of sexual coercion and rape on which Assange was arrested yesterday may or may not hold up, but at least they are real. The notion that WikiLeaks has done anything illegal is just that — a notion — and while what Mastercard and its peers have done may be good for business, or at least their relationships with regulators, it’s lousy for the rule of law. Fortunately, 4Chan is around to dole out something even more important: justice.