Free Speech

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
ny times, wikileaks

Companies:
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
    Chargone (profile), 27 Dec 2010 @ 12:55pm

    there is a solution to this issue.

    it is unfortunately slow and mildly expensive, but any organization of reasonable size can completely bypass the banks if they want. (heck, to some degree so can individuals).

    you see, there's this little thing called precious metals...

    unfortunately, unlike the digital cash as employed by the banks these days, you can't fabricate entirely new money simply by running it through the system, nor can you make a transaction with someone on the other side of the world within seconds.

    so, slower, logistical issues...
    but on the up side the only way it can actually be 'blocked' is outright theft or Actual piracy at sea. additionally, even if the banks won't give you local currency for it, jewelers probably will... and if they won't you can probably find some kind of middleman... failing that, it probably wouldn't take too much effort to get people to just accept the silver itself if your 'coins' were reliable in their consistency.

    only really starts having major issues if you debase your coin.

    oh, best part? most places won't tax silver until you try to convert it into local currency (unless you start running into things like 'capital gains tax' and the like)

    (gold also works, and on certain scales bulk iron or other not so precious metals work too. the thing about precious metals is that you can actually physically posses the metals, not just a bit of paper saying you own the rights to the profits from the sale of a percentage of a certain stack of the stuff)

    another downside, of course, is that with modern currency being so ridiculously inflated compared to silver, and everything being priced in that inflated currency, it's hard to get a small enough quantity of silver for practical use in day to day activity. (inflation in the USA since the switch from a metal based standard to fiat currency is something ridiculous like 300% more than it ever had in the entire time before that. for exact numbers you'll have to look it up yourself though).

    the simple solution to this of course is to keep accounts and pay 'em when they get to a value where that actually works, but that doesn't work so well when making one off purchases...

    mind you, if you issue your own coin (not coin of the realm, exactly) using precious metals rather than fiat currency, you end up with a stockpile of said metals, and can return to the practice of writting notes to the effect of 'this note entitles the bearer to, upon it's redemption at (appropriate facility) (some amount of your currency) or equivalent at the going rate in other metals, gems, goods, or (coin of the realm) as desired and available.'

    best part of those notes is that you can then issue notes worth fractions of it... but never notes for things you don't actually Have.

    none of which, i admit, completely solves the problem of financial firms locking you out of the market internet wise... precious metals, being a finite, tangible, scarce good, are substantially more expensive to move around than random digital bits, which increases shipping and insurance costs. (though someone wealthy enough could actually employ trustworthy individuals specifically with the job of taking X amount of silver, going to place Y, giving it to person Z, getting object A in exchange, and returning with that item... loyal retainers are a great thing. )

    i would say it would slow things down, but when it already takes months for anything to get here if one isn't willing to pay shipping fees far in excess of any justification for the product in question under the Current system, i personally don't think i'd care much about speed....

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