Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Digital Payment Blockade Arms Race...

Almost two years ago, when Wikileaks published thousands of classified State Department documents, many large financial companies like Visa, Mastercard, Western Union, PayPal, and others decided to no longer allow payments to be made to the Wikileaks website.  This "donation blockade" very nearly shut down the website completely, and while it ultimately failed to do so, it nevertheless proved its effectiveness as an existential threat to, basically, any website deemed undesirable.

Now, in response, Daniel Ellsberg (from the famous Pentagon Papers Supreme Court Case) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) have announced that they're creating of the Freedom of the Press Foundation - an independent organization that will help raise money and channel it to websites that are the targets of future donation blockades.
How would it work?  As Forbes describes...

On the Foundation’s website, any user will be able to make a donation through an encrypted form, specifying which organization under the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s umbrella will receive the funds. By mixing groups together under its banner, the Foundation hopes to make it more difficult for funding to be cut off to any one of them, and to also offer donors a way to make a contribution to a controversial group like WikiLeaks without publicly revealing that they’ve done so.
Whether we call this crowdfunding or proxy funding, the central idea is to hide the identities of who's making financial donations and to then hide how that money gets disbursed.  It's ironic that these are the explicit goals of an advocacy group championing the cause of freedom of information.

Notice that what's developing before our very eyes is a digital arms race between those who want to utilize payment blockades as a means of controlling Internet content and those who seek to liberate that content through circumvention.  What's additionally noteworthy is how all of this is occurring outside of the legal arena.  After all, Wikileaks was never found to be in violation of U.S. law.  It's a completely private sector phenomenon.

My question is whether supporters and opponents of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, regardless of which side they fall on, would stand by their arguments being made here when applied to a different context - say, campaign finance reform?  Do the same people support and oppose anonymous political campaign contributions?



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