Tuesday, December 07, 2010

More on the attempt to squelch Wikileaks

Just noticed something in the tail end of the article I linked in the previous post:

MasterCard Worldwide is also choking payments to the site.

I had mentioned depeering as an effective method of control, well, here's another method. The fact that there is no practical way to pay cash online is a significant advantage for authoritarians, possibly even more significant than depeering. Not being able to utilize cash online means you can only pay for something with the aid of a third party. There are only a few third parties with enough market presence to actually be useful, and those have proven many times that they are perfectly willing to bend over when the government asks them to.

Years and years ago, I read at least one article (possibly in Wired magazine) pertaining to the possibility of "e-cash", that is, a method of making payments online that could allow the same degree of anonymity as a real-life cash payment. Presumably it would involve a third-party intermediary, but both sides of the transaction would be anonymized, meaning the intermediary wouldn't know who was paying who. I forget how it worked, but I recall that strong encryption was involved somehow in the anonymization process (I really ought to look this up sometime, because it was a very cool idea). The idea never caught on, mainly because nobody cared, but I suppose also because there were vested interests who didn't want it to happen. It didn't occur to anyone that, someday, the de facto cartel that controls credit card payments would also be able to control the online world, simply by virtue of controlling the flow of money.

That, really, is the center of the problem: the flow of money is subject to centralized control. That should not be the case. It should not be possible to financially choke someone just because the government is pissed off.

The article also says,

In all cases, the companies have insisted their decisions are not politically motivated.

That is bullshit. "The companies" would be Amazon.com, Paypal, Mastercard, EveryDNS, and PostFinance. There isn't a single one of them who would have done what they did without government pressure, and we all know it.

There is one exception, so far--one company with enough balls to say "no", and that is Wikileaks' French ISP, OVH:

French internet service provider OVH said it had no plans to end the service it provides to Wikileaks.

"OVH is neither for nor against this site. We neither asked to host this site nor not to host it. Now it's with us, we will fulfil the contract," said OVH managing director Octave Klaba.

"It's neither for the political world nor for OVH to call for or to decide on a site's closure," he added.

This, in spite of pressure from the French government to shut the site down. Bravo to them.

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