MasterCard The First To Lift “Banking Blockade” Against WikiLeaks

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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For the first time since the diplomatic cable leaks in 2010, Wikileaks officially accepts credit card donations

US financial services provider MasterCard has once again started accepting payments to Wikileaks, according to Julian Assange’s organisation.

After years of blocking donations to the whistleblowing non-profit, it has become the first major finance company to acknowledge that disclosing classified information in public interest is not a crime.

Wikileaks has always maintained that blocking donations to the website was illegal, and in 2011 it even sued Valitor, the Icelandic partner for VISA and MasterCard. Assange, the founder and editor-in-chief of WikiLeaks, claimed the “blockade” had stripped the organisation of 95 percent of its funding.

Since 2010, MasterCard and other organisations that blacklisted Wikileaks had been consistently targeted by cyberattacks.

About the money

MasterCard, Visa, Western Union, Bank of America and PayPal had all initiated a “banking blockade” against WikiLeaks in 2010, after the organisation published the infamous US diplomatic cables. At the time, MasterCard said it would take action against any organisation it believed to be involved in illegal activities “until the situation is resolved”.

Piotr AdamowiczThe blockade was initially expected to last just seven days. However, it soon became clear the financial institutions would not change their minds easily.

In the following weeks, MasterCard suffered from a series of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks as part of ‘Operation Payback’, with Anonymous claiming responsibility. Similar attacks continued throughout 2011.

In July 2011, some sources reported that Visa and MasterCard had resumed payment processing for WikiLeaks. It later turned out that one of merchant websites linked to the non-profit was quietly accepting donations, but this gateway was quickly shut down.

Due to the lack of funds, the non-profit was forced to look for other ways to finance its work, eventually erecting a “paywall” that drove a wedge between Wikileaks and the Anonymous movement. Some of the hacktivists said that because of this “extortion” campaign, they would no longer supply any kind of information to the website, instead promoting alternative secret-busting platforms, such as AnonLeaks, HackerLeaks and LocalLeaks.

MasterCard has become the first financial company to revisit the issue, and once again allow payments to WikiLeaks.

The organisation was informed of this decision by Valitor. Lawyers representing WikiLeaks and its service provider DataCell sued Valitor in 2011, claiming the company breached its contract when it refused to take donations on request of Visa and MasterCard.

Wikileaks won the lawsuit in April 2013, forcing Valitor to resume payment processing. The company complied with the decision of the Supreme Court of Iceland, but also filed a formal notice, informing that it would terminate the aforementioned contract on 1 July. On Wednesday, after negotiating with MasterCard, Valitor suddenly changed its mind and announced it will honour the contract with DataCell. There is currently no indication Visa will do the same.

Chris HarveyDespite this peace offering, WikiLeaks is still demanding damages through court, estimated to be around 9 billion Icelandic Kronas (approximately £48 million).

Assange remains locked up at the embassy of Ecuador in London. If he leaves the building in Knightsbridge, he is likely to be arrested and extradited to Sweden, where he is accused of sexual assault. Assange denies the allegations, saying they are used as a ploy to get him extradited to the US, where he would likely stand trial on very different charges.

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