Tuesday 27th November, 1300 GMT
European Commission documents released today by WikiLeaks show that hard-right U.S. politicians were directly behind the extrajudicial banking blockade against WikiLeaks. In the heavily redacted documents, MasterCard Europe admits that Senator Joseph Lieberman and Congressman Peter T. King both “had conversations” with MasterCard in the United States. Lieberman, the then-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, boasted of instigating Amazon’s cutting of service to WikiLeaks – an action condemned by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers on 7 December 2011.
Senator Lieberman tried to introduce the SHIELD Act into the Senate and advocated for prosecuting the New York Times for espionage in connection with WikiLeaks’ releases. Rep. Peter King, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, tried to formally designate WikiLeaks as a foreign terrorist organization, have its staff listed as ‘enemy combatants’, and have WikiLeaks put on a U.S. Treasury blacklist. On 13 January 2011 the U.S. Treasury announced it would not do so because there was no evidence that WikiLeaks should be on such a list. While Lieberman and King were unsuccessful in these methods of legally cutting WikiLeaks from its popular donor base, they were successful in doing so extra-legally via VISA and MasterCard, which together hold a monopoly of 97 per cent of the market of EU card payments.
VISA Europe is registered in London and is owned by a consortium of European banks. MasterCard Europe is registered in Belgium and has similar ownership, but the Commission papers show that European control of VISA Europe and MasterCard Europe is a fiction. The papers reveal that the instructions to blockade WikiLeaks’ operations in Europe came directly from VISA and MasterCard in the United States. Ownership would normally imply control, but VISA and MasterCard Europe are essentially controlled by confidential contracts with their U.S. counterparts, a hidden organizational structure that the Commission calls an “association of undertakings”.
On Tuesday, 19 November 2012, the European Parliament took an important step towards safeguarding the economic sovereignty of all Europeans. In Article 32 of its resolution, the European Parliament expressed the will that the Commission should prevent the arbitrary refusal of payments by credit card companies, which economically strangles businesses and organizations, notably ours. The resolution is an important step to putting an end to the Lieberman/King blockade, which has wiped out 95 per cent of WikiLeaks’ revenues. The Lieberman/King blockade has been directly condemned by, among others, the UN Special Rapporteur of Freedom of Speech and the New York Times Editorial Board. The blockade is a direct infringement of the Article 19 right to receive and impart information, and threatens all donor-funded organizations and the freedom of the press.
It comes as a surprise, then, that the European Commission is taking the contrary view in its preliminary decision, of not opening a formal investigation into VISA, MasterCard and AmEx’s violations against DataCell, the company that collected donations to the WikiLeaks project until the imposition of the blockade in 2010. The Commission’s 16-page preliminary decision has been announced after 15 months of deliberations. The ‘normal’ waiting time is four months. Yesterday, DataCell and WikiLeaks submitted detailed counter-arguments to the Commission’s preliminary decision.
Through the leaked documents we learn that VISA and MasterCard have used a false statement by the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, to mislead the European Commission. The Prime Minister’s statement, which she later claimed was made in her “private capacity”, was that the WikiLeaks publication of diplomatic cables was “illegal”. This was declared to be false by a subsequent investigation by the Australian Federal Police, which declared that WikiLeaks had not broken any Australian law. Earlier this year, the Australian Senate passed a resolution demanding the retraction of the Prime Minister’s false statement.
The leaked documents reveal MasterCard’s political stance to our exposure of the crimes and horrors of military campaigns: “It is evident that any affiliation with an organisation causing damage to the national interests of several nations involved in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq… will be extremely damaging for the public perception of MasterCard”.
Julian Assange said:
> There is no sovereignty without economic sovereignty. It is concerning that hard-right elements in the United States have been able to pressure VISA and MasterCard, who together hold monopoly over the European market, into introducing a blockade that the U.S. Treasury has rightly rejected. These unaccountable elements are directly interfering in the political and economic freedoms of EU consumers and are setting a precedent for political censorship of the world’s media.
WikiLeaks will continue to fight the blockade, despite its limited resources, because it is fighting for its survival. Already there have been victories. In June 2012 WikiLeaks won its first court victory in Iceland against the Lieberman-King blockade. Last month WikiLeaks opened a new battle front by filing, together with its partner DataCell, a case against Teller A/S (VISA Denmark).
The movement in Parliament and in the rest of Europe is to support WikiLeaks’ publishing rights. The German foundation Wau Holland Stiftung (WHS), which collected donations for WikiLeaks via PayPal had their donations account arbitrarily shut down. The tax-exempt status of the Foundation was challenged as well, as a result of political interference which was exposed this month in Der Spiegel (“Taxing Transparency”). Yesterday, WHS announced that, after almost two years of negotiations with German tax authorities, its tax exemption (charitable status) has been reinstated. Citizens of all EU Member States will now be able to donate to WikiLeaks’ operations through WHS and deduct the donation from their income tax.
UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/showarticle.asp?artID=829&lID=1
Council of Europe – Declaration on online service providers: https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=1883671&Site=CM
The Guardian Comment is Free (23 November 2012) by Glenn Greewald: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/23/anonymous-trial-wikileaks-internet-freedom
Video: U.S. demands to assassinate Assange – http://youtube.com/watch?v=ZuQW0US2sJw
*Quote from Visa and MasterCard Submissions to the European Commission*
Visa’s response to the European Central Bank:
> As you will no doubt be aware, in some jurisdictions, various stakeholders have questioned whether WikiLeaks is, in respect of some of the material it publishes, committing criminal acts. Our Operating Regulations prohibit the use of the Visa system for illegal purposes either in the jurisdiction of the merchant (in this case Iceland) or the jurisdiction of the cardholder (which could be anywhere in the world). It is possible that activities that are permitted in one jurisdiction may be illegal in others. Accordingly, the application of the relevant position under the Operating Regulations does not necessarily depend solely on Icelandic law.
> This position is appropriate and proportionate in light of the alleged unlawful conduct of WikiLeaks, which, among other sensitive material, in 2010 published and refuses to return large amounts of material stolen from classified US military databases. Further, according to recent press coverage, it appears that the leaking of sensitive information is continuing.
MasterCard’s arguments to the European Commission:
> MasterCard does not hold a collective dominant position with Visa… It is also worth mentioning here that MasterCard does not constitute an ‘essential facility’, and therefore is under no obligation to provide its services to any particular undertakings.
> It is evident that any affiliation with an organisation causing damage to the national interests of several nations involved in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and possibly putting lives needlessly at risk, will be damaging for the public perception of MasterCard and consequently damage MasterCard’s goodwill or its [trade]Marks.
> By way of example, in 2004 MasterCard requested the Dutch acquirer, then ‘Interpay Nederlands B.V.’ (now ‘Paysquare’) to suspend the provision of acquiring services to merchants operating websites offering access to pornographic material including showing sexual acts with animals (‘bestiality content’).
> …before taking its decision, MasterCard Incorporated did not have any contacts with public authorities, and therefore did not act upon request from any public authorities.
> MasterCard Incorporated had several conversations with the FBI, US Treasury and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) about the possibility of such DDoS attacks.
> MasterCard Incorporated had conversations with certain Congressional staff (i.e. Chairman Lieberman and Chairman King’s [Senate and House Homeland Security Chairs] staff).”
*European Parliament – on Card, Internet and mobile payments*
Towards an integrated European market for card, internet and mobile payments – 20 November 2012
The European Parliament voted that the Commission introduce legislation to determine when credit card companies can deny payments:
> 32. Considers it likely that there will be a growing number of European companies whose activities are effectively dependent on being able to accept payments by card; considers it to be in the public interest to define objective rules describing the circumstances and procedures under which card payment schemes may unilaterally refuse acceptance;
In his intervention, Swedish MEP Christian Engstrom explained:
> Another example is when Visa, Mastercard and Paypal blocked payments to WikiLeaks. There was no legal basis and [it] should be seen as the three companies helped the US government to silence an inconvenient voice. It is not acceptable that private corporations have the power of [controlling] free speech.