Free Speech

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
ny times, wikileaks

ny times, wikileaks

NY Times Finally Speaks Out Against Financial Firms Blocking Wikileaks

from the took-'em-long-enough dept

One of the more annoying things about watching the major news publications discussing the Wikileaks controversy is how infrequently they seem to realize that many of the attacks they themselves have been directing (or redirecting) at Wikileaks could come back to haunt them as well, as many could apply to them when they do things such as publish information about leaked documents. In fact, just last week, we wondered how come all those financial firms (including Visa, MasterCards, Bank of America and Paypal) were not cutting off the NY Times after it revealed military secrets. It appears that some folks on the NY Times editorial board have realized the same thing and published an editorial condemning the decision to cut off Wikileaks by these financial firms:
[A] bank's ability to block payments to a legal entity raises a troubling prospect. A handful of big banks could potentially bar any organization they disliked from the payments system, essentially cutting them off from the world economy...

[...] Still, there are troubling questions. The decisions to bar the organization came after its founder, Julian Assange, said that next year it will release data revealing corruption in the financial industry. In 2009, Mr. Assange said that WikiLeaks had the hard drive of a Bank of America executive.

What would happen if a clutch of big banks decided that a particularly irksome blogger or other organization was "too risky"? What if they decided -- one by one -- to shut down financial access to a newspaper that was about to reveal irksome truths about their operations?
That said, part of the editorial is a bit worrisome, as it seems to be suggesting that banks themselves should not be able to decide who they can and cannot work with, and that since they are "not too unlike other public utilities," perhaps they should be regulated, in the same way that a telco cannot refuse to provide phone or internet service to an operation who it does not like. I'm not sure that's necessarily the lesson we should be taking from this, however. The larger lesson is more about the lack of real competition in the space, where a very small number of intermediaries are effectively able to block off much of the money supply. That's the real problem. The answer should be to encourage greater competition in the space, such that if a few firms decide to cut off a service, it doesn't really matter, since there are many others to step in and help in their place.

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  1. icon
    Hulser (profile), 27 Dec 2010 @ 12:07pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Face it, we're not going to get a government that has free market ideals front and center.

    Sadly, I think you're right. But I think the reason for that is the "there outa be a law!" reaction which you appear to agree with based on your "I just don't see a downside..." comment above. The problem is that there is a downside. It's that by addressing the symptoms of the problem, you end up with a million laws and regulations which actually makes the problem worse because that model promotes abuse. Instead of "forcing banks to make payments to legal entities", we just need to set up a system whereby people can route around the companies who censor.

    On a related note, I heard a story on the radio today about how some (I think state) legistlature was "unproductive" because it didn't pass as many new laws as last year. I don't know about you, but I consider this to be a huge success, not something that is worthy of the derogitory term of "unproductive". Contrary to their name, the job of lawmakers is not to make as many new laws as possible. I'd vote for a politician if their record was "Stopped 50 stupid laws and helped pass two good ones".

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