Silencing Wikileaks is silencing the press

RTXVEJQ.jpg(image: Reuters)

Operation Payback is a bitch. "Anonymous" is retaliating against Mastercard for denying payment processing services to WikiLeaks, and Mastercard.com is currently down as a result.

The apparent US government efforts to cut Wikileaks' lifeblood—cashflow and web services—kicked into high gear this week. On Monday, Swiss bank PostFinance closed the defense fund account for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. PayPal shut down donation processing after receiving a State Department letter, and most recently, Visa and Mastercard have suspended Wikileaks' accounts. Did the credit card companies do so in response to the same pressures? And, further, in part because the cables show the US lobbied Russia on their behalf? A Guardian report today suggests so.

Amazon.com, which provided some hosting services to Wikileaks, and DNS service provider EveryDNS.net, have also cut off service to the secret-leaking website. Both companies cite technical reasons: the burden of too many anti-Wikileaks hacking attacks, in the case of EveryDNS, and a violation of TOS in Amazon's. But perhaps they, too, are reacting to explicit or implicit government pressure. Wikileaks' latest response is here.

Screen-shot-2010-12-08-at-8.24.jpg

"Operation: Payback" began months ago as a series of attacks targeting anti-piracy entities like the RIAA and MPAA. The shift in focus to defending Wikileaks isn't without a link: a portion of the "Cablegate" tranche reportedly amounts to proof the US pressured Sweden to "do something" about The Pirate Bay."

"Their servers have been shut down and they will remain so for as long as there is no true freedom of information and data," read an Anonymous open letter related to Operation Payback. "[We] will target any website bowing down to government pressure."

The US hasn't pressed charges against Assange or Wikileaks, but all the noose-tightening is concurrent with increasingly blunt statements characterizing Wikileaks as a criminal or terrorist organization.

And that should concern every American.

Whatever you think of Wikileaks, the crescendo of extra-legal pressure tactics threaten all our freedom.

Silencing Mastercard.com with pingfloods or malware isn't going to do much to advance the cause of liberating those who would be silenced. But what exactly should be done? Normally I'd dismiss tweets describing this as "the world's first great infowar" as hyperbole. But this time, everything really does feel unprecedented.

I believe Wikileaks as an organization to be flawed and Assange to be a problematic figure, to put it charitably. There are negative effects and public benefits from the project's actions, so far. But Wikileaks has a right to exist, just as you have a right to know when your government's secrets grow into public deceptions.

I believe we are better off knowing what we now do of those deceptions from the material Wikileaks has brought to light.

Just as past court struggles for the legal protection of free speech in America have sometimes involved characters or groups one might find flawed at best, and abhorrent at worst, so too is this an imperfect entity deserving of the full protection of law and due process.

Wikileaks may be flawed. But Americans cannot allow the US to criminalize Wikileaks. If we do, the rights of all citizens are jeopardized.


Related links: Wikileaks is still asking for donations, and they've figured out alternatives to keep the cash flowing in.

Coverage of the Mastercard DDOS, and the denials of financial services to Wikileaks: ZDnet, Guardian UK, Forbes, Business Insider, NYT "The Lede" blog, NYT article by John Markoff, WSJ, Reuters.

Also: "How to Think About Wikileaks," by Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic.

Dylan Ratigan of MSNBC asks what the institutions are afraid of.

And don't miss this piece by a former Marine at Gizmodo.


mcddos.jpg