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PayPal: "State Department Said It Was Illegal" (techcrunch.com)
173 points by jeremyjarvis on Dec 8, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 137 comments

Ok, so Paypal was told by a high-level Federal agency that Wikileaks was illegal. Freezing the account seems like the safe response to that.

I'm sure, by now, Paypal has figured out that Wikileaks isn't illegal - based on all the calls by lawmakers to ban it, if nothing else. Have they restored the account yet?

You missed this part of the article:

"Update: After talking to Bedier backstage, he clarified that the State Department did not directly talk to PayPal"

This is starting to look like an attempt at ass covering that backfired badly.

So if the letter was indeed sent to wikileaks, but used as a justification for locking their account, how on earth did the letter end up at Paypal to begin with?

This is looking very, very fishy.

Wikileaks released the letter publicly.

> Paypal has figured out that Wikileaks isn't illegal - based on all the calls by lawmakers to ban it

Congress-critters fighting over a microphone are not a useful source of information about the state of the law.

It's actually fairly common for congress critters to say "this shows that we need a law" when there already is such a law. In some cases, they then use the current incident to pass a completly different law.

Getting on the US government's bad side when you are in a highly regulated industry is NEVER a good idea. It'd be a quixotic crusade that'd just draw Paypal into the line of fire. For example, there are probably 50 FinReg statutes alone that an aspiring Eliot Spitzer 2.0 could throw at them given sufficient prodding by the federales.

That's presumably why all those cell phone companies handed over all your calls to the police without a warrant.

Only one called their lawyers to ask if it was legal.

Great comparison.

Ok, so Paypal was told by a high-level Federal agency that Wikileaks was illegal. Freezing the account seems like the safe response to that.

It is not. Freezing an account is a safe response to legal documents that have legal force, from a court requesting that this be done Some vague threat by an unnamed bureaucrat should be treated as nothing more than political pressure.

Paypal was told nothing directly. Please read the updated text.

Yeah, I updated the title to reflect the update on TC.

What happens to the money if an account is frozen or turned off?

They unwind all the transactions and give the money to the people that originally sent money to Wikileaks, right?

No, they keep the money until whatever dispute there is, is settled.

Typically they hold on to it for half a year and then pay it out to the merchant.

>Have they restored the account yet?

Are you kidding me? That Machiavellian sanity-grinder gave Notch, a legitimate indie developer selling a game about digging through dirt, Hell on Earth just to get his money.

PayPal doing the right thing, snorts I'll sprout wings and shave my eyebrows off first.

I'd sooner trust the IRS to do right by me than PayPal.

Disclosure: My first entrepreneurial effort was annihilated in concert by UPS, PayPal, and eBay.

Just last week someone asked on HN "what are the legal consequences of donating to an organization that is branded a "terrorist organization"? Can you be punished retroactively?"

I replied that yes, you can, and you should not expect rationality or good faith from these people, only savagery. I was down-voted into oblivion. This filled me with confidence, so I donated that very day. Later that afternoon, Paypal caved. Evidently I was the last straw. ;)

Ya the same here. I donated when Paypal caved and then I donated again when MasterCard caved. Between that and my vocal opposition to the new TSA policies I'm pretty sure I'm on every list the government has at this point /tinfoil hat.

I'm with you man, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose. I cast my fate to the wind years ago. And by the way, I think the use of tin foil is highly underrated and needlessly ridiculed.

What I want to know is, why should harmless fuzz-balls like us have to worry about anything in life? We are but simple people, minding our own business in honest toil, needing only our daily ration of beer and bread. Now if I could just write that with an Irish accent.

I assume you can still donate to NORAID with your mastercard?

All of us little old England are so glad we have never experienced any terrorist attacks before 911

I'm too young to have remembered, but seems Noraid was a largely US-funded charity alleged to have paid for weapons for use by republican groups in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain.


oh please don't bring the Notch stuff into this. FYI they were entirely justified with what they did. I administrate the Minecraft forums, there were (and still are) many legitimate complaints from people who paid for the game but never got access because minecraft.net is very poorly built[1]. When his account received millions of dollars in a tiny period of time with numerous complaints do you really think any legitimate company would just give him the money?

What they did in his situation was entirely justified and I'd personally suggest it was exactly what they should have done. I'm sure there are many times when Paypal have done wrong, but this really isn't one of them.

[1] http://www.minecraftforum.net/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=91042

Also: Everyone talks about them "freezing" his account or stealing his money, when they did no such thing. They're simply requiring him to keep a float in his Paypal account to cover chargebacks, and due to the amount of transactions he gets, that float has to be an unusually large amount.

They're requiring that now. At the time, they froze the account, allowing money in but no withdrawals.

At a point in time when it was unclear to Paypal whether or not all of the money was fraudulently obtained and was going to be charged back, that action seems perfectly reasonable.

I still don't have access. I emailed someone, got no response, so I gave up on it.

hey :-) Send an email to Daniel (daniel@mojang.com) and he should sort you out. If not send me an email (sam@redstonewire.com) and when he's next online I'll poke him into helping you out.

Seems like an awful lot of feigned shock about paypal.

Paypal has a long history of closing account for arbitrary reasons or for no apparant reason at all. This is especially true of accounts for taking donations (rather than ones selling physical products). If you Google around you can find dozens of people complaining about closed accounts who were taking donations for completely innocuous projects.

By comparison, "because the gov't told us it was illegal" seems like a pretty solid reason. The cost of just paying lawyers to figure out if Wikileaks might actually be breaking any laws surely costs more than Paypal is likely to make in transaction fees.

paying lawyers to figure out if Wikileaks might actually be breaking any laws surely costs more than Paypal is likely to make in transaction fees.

Maybe they can use some of the money they collect in interest from having money in frozen accounts.

(edited to include more of what I was quoting since it seemed ambiguous as to what I was saying they could do)

I am pretty sure they already do this. Any bank that doesn't do that is a joke. The higher the total number of frozen account the larger the amount of immediately available cash. They can use that for whatever they can use cash for, since they are the ones that control the freeze times.

At the start of the week the VP probably asks so "how much guarnteed money do we get to play with this week?" and then they get a number and they can do whatever they want, say provide short term loans or invest it some other way.

Seems like an awful lot of feigned shock about paypal.

Just because paypal are frequently rubbish doesn't make it less outrageous.

Interestingly, DDoS attacks against Wikileaks can only delay dissemination of information a little bit. DDoS attacks against PayPal, on the other hand, can be effective in costing them real money, for every hour they are down.

If I were attacking them, I would target the APIs that merchants use instead of the main site. The main site has probably been DDoSed before, APIs are a subtler target. I imagine a successful attack there would have a broader and deeper impact.

Also, have browsers been used for DDoS before? I imagine with the popularity Wikileaks has, you can ask people to keep a page open if they want to participate, and share that page on Twitter/Reddit/Facebook. The page would repeatedly create requests loading the target urls in an iframe or as a script tag.

In this approach one would have to get rid of the referrer header, I guess. So open the urls using SSL. The SSL handshake would cause additional load.

Not sure how effective would that be compared to a traditional botnet that can delay TCP and SSL handshakes; things browsers can't do.

Interesting idea. I would imagine the page load for the person who opens the webpage would be pretty high, unless there's a way to stop a webpage from loading. (Disabling images/js/flash client side, perhaps?). Also, the website owners would get banned pretty quick, unless they have some offshore hosting.

Also, a double meta refresh is another way to get rid of the referrer beside using SSL.

> DDoS attacks against PayPal, on the other hand, can be effective in costing them real money, for every hour they are down.

Ever heard the term 'collateral damage' ? If PayPal gets trashed (or at least significantly service impaired) that is going to hurt people way beyond PayPal. People who are trying (as I am) to keep up with the Christmas/Holiday rush, and wondering why so many orders, paid via PayPal, are not completing.

An attack on PayPal is an attack on the wider business side of the web. Basically PayPal is the guy caught in the middle of a dispute (between Wikileaks/hacker community and the US Gov/Dept of State).

People who are trying (as I am) to keep up with the Christmas/Holiday rush

The same argument could be made against a work strike, or a mass protest, or an act of civil disobedience.

There's very few examples in history of important issues being pushed forward in a way that was convenient for everyone.

One might even make the claim that many important issues were only pushed forward specifically _because_ it was inconvenient for everyone.

the best chrismas gift you can buy this year to the world is a freedom of speak!

> that is going to hurt people way beyond PayPal

That's what I meant by broader and deeper impact. If service is impaired for merchants, a fraction of them will switch their payment provider.

I am not arguing this is the right thing to do from moral standpoint btw. This just got me thinking about DDoSes for the first time. Would be interesting to hear what the security experts think.

Basically PayPal is the guy caught in the middle of a dispute (between Wikileaks/hacker community and the US Gov/Dept of State).

Well, then they should've stayed out of it. They haven't gotten so much as an official letter (which BTW would be extremely shady since the executive branch doesn't decide what's legal and not). Even if they did, they're under no obligation to do this unless there's a court order. They got involved because of the politics, they can deal with the blowback.

I believe that this is the point of what they're doing. They're hoping that this damages paypal to the point that merchants like you move to other payment processors.

What is happening to you is horrible. I'm sorry.

PayPal should have fought this instead of panicking and complying with the State Department. If it's true their exact words to PayPal were that Wikileaks was performing "illegal activities", then they are liars. There is nothing illegal about Wikileaks. In fact, PayPal should have stood their ground.

The State Department didn't say anything to Paypal. See the updated post.

Paypal should fight nothing. It is a public company with fiduciary duties to its shareholders. All this political nonsense is something that its shareholders can "fight" about on their own dime.

I'm completely against making WL into a terrorist organization. But that's where we are headed -- or something very close to it. They're not publishers -- at least not in any normal sense I can fathom -- but they are certainly not terrorists either.

My point being: if PayPal and others want to play hardball and refuse to shut down their payments because WL aren't criminals, the other side will just up the ante by making them criminals. This is a no-win situation for PayPal and other vendors associated with this CF.

Ironically, the vendors who are voluntarily shutting off WL are probably doing the most to help the cause in the long term by not pushing the matter. WL supporters should really hope for a long spell of lowering the volume and everybody behaving like adults for a while. Probably won't happen, though.

Don't start your analysis with "who they are", but with "what they do". What they do is pretty simple -- they disseminate information. This is commonly known as "publishing". They do not: commit violent acts, call for others to commit violent acts, give money to those doing violent acts.

> but they are certainly not terrorists either

They certainly are instilling terror in US leaders :)

I know you're trying to be funny, but my definition of a terrorist is somebody who uses stealth to deliberately target civilians in an effort to affect political change.

So, as funny as you are, they're pretty close, just no banana.

If it came out, however, that Assange and pals were considering that any civilian casualties they might cause as a key part of their effort to enact change, I might think very differently. So far, happily, that's not the case.

I also think "fear" is a little bit self-congratulatory. Looks to me from watching politicians of every country and party respond, the appropriate phrase is much closer to "pissed off"

"my definition of a terrorist is somebody who uses stealth to deliberately target civilians in an effort to affect political change."

Shouldn't the definition of terrorism include the fact that they are violently targeting civilians? Economic or computer terrorism that doesn't actually hurt or kill anyone doesn't meet the definition in my view - and the publishing work or WL definitely doesn't either.

(Massively edited)


The point is that the use of stealth and fear to purposely sway voters is a deliberate circumvention of the act of an intelligent population making an educated choice by voting.

The actions which may induce this fear are not germane. Ruining commerce for a week, if it causes real harm to economic participants and sways voters, is good enough.

You can release too much information and also interfere, perhaps even scare and cause harm. Using the fact that "it's only the truth" is not enough. It's a red herring. So they are walking a very fine line here, but as far as I can tell they're on the correct side of it. At least as far as the terrorism definition goes.

I never thought I'd be having this discussion on HN, but by that definition Fox News (and to a lesser extent other networks and/or "commentators") would qualify as a terrorist organization.

As much as I dislike Fox News, actually extending the definition of terrorism far enough to include them, and Wikileaks, would dilute the definition to the point of uselessness (or, worse, to the point of including anyone you don't agree with who is trying to induce political change).

I should probably start staying out of the WL discussions here, this is starting to sound too much like /r/politics :(

All I'm saying is that a clear definition of terms is required if you would like to discuss this. Here or anywhere.

You are welcome to come up with your own terms -- perhaps you are correct in that the search for terms is political and contentious. Don't know.

I came up with my definition many years ago, because the word "terrorism" is way overloaded. I would encourage you to come up with your own. I do not care what that definition is, as long as it is consistent (And btw, once you get something, I'd love to hear it)

As technologist, I think part of our job in this entire WL issue is to be able to help the average layman understand the issues involved. So -- agreement or not -- we should all think through on our own what our analysis is. As anal as they are, semantics matter.

And no, voluntarily watching a TV news channel does not count as terrorism under my definition, unless it also includes dancing with the stars, which I think should be outlawed worldwide (wink)

I think we can separate advocacy from semantics. If not, then we're stuck in these arguments no matter what we do or try. The issue here is that technology, our bread and butter, is becoming intertwined with just about everything in the entire world. And most of the people and system is it now affecting are completely unprepared to deal with it.

I agree that definitions are important, but most people's definitions of terrorism involve something going boom. I'm not as interested in coming up with my own definition as I am in using the terms and definitions that are least likely to be misinterpreted by the largest number of people.

That in itself is a loaded topic... trying to redefine a term is usually either a losing battle (because people won't listen), or an underhanded strategy (because people won't notice). We don't always have the luxury of attaching a glossary to a conversation ;)

This has actually turned into a great technology discussion.

The first thing you have to do, if you're programming inside a business, is come to agreement on terms. The initial thing most people try is some sort of dictionary approach, but after a while you end up realizing that a critical part of a project team's work is to create working definitions of common concepts. This is called the problem domain language (insert long talk which includes Ludwig Wittgenstein here) Words mean something because of the semantic web they are presented in. They have no meaning on their own.

So "Customer" or "Account", while sounding like clear terms, are actually the same problem as "terrorism" Unless you come up with (and own) a definition, analysis will be impossible because of contradictions.

Sorry. Slipped into teacher mode.

This is just stuff I do all the time, so I don't have a problem with creating working definitions, no matter what the topic is. I'd much rather be considered an oddball with my own definitions than circling my tail trying to pin down what things like "war" or "terrorism" is. Because if I'm creating my definitions, I can ensure consistency. Can't do that when you turn that job over to somebody else. Language is extremely slippery.

I thought it was common to invent new terms or repurpose neutral ones rather than subvert common, loaded terms for your own purposes?

I would not call it "oddball", I would call it either "intentionally misleading" or - granting benefit of doubt - a "misjudgment causing more harm than good".

How about "cyberterrorism", a reasonably established term?

The word itself doesn't matter. That's the whole point.

Call it "foo". The point is that I create a symbol that has these attributes. We can then reason about this symbol.

You cannot do this by picking up an already-loaded term and working with it. It doesn't work. So by redefining "foo" or "terrorism" or "cyber-terrorism" or whatnot, you then have to go back to where the old word was used in context and see if it works. In some cases it works. In some cases it does not. You find out all sorts of interesting things by slightly formalizing your language in this manner.

Is a certain amount of real harm that could credibly take place a requirement? Or could, say, Saw IV be terrorism if it had a political message?

For contrast, the DoD's definition of terrorism:

The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.

Or could, say, Saw IV be terrorism if it had a political message?

How could a movie sneak up on a population and play itself to them?

But -- playing a terrorist beheading to a bunch of captives at a local theater could, as long as it caused harm and was purposed to interfere with the democratic process.

Terrorism and WL, although they are not the same (remember I am saying they are not the same), are both "meta" attacks. They don't attack the people, per se, they seek to destroy or change the system of governance the people use to make decisions. This is why the argument that only 2K people were killed while more people die in roadway accidents on 9-11 makes no sense. You don't count up the bodies from one attack or the other. It doesn't work like that. It's not a kinetic fight, or even a fight for land. It's a systemic fight.

I do not understand, at all, where "stealth" comes into your definition of terrorism, or why everyone else should follow that definition?

Traditionally at least, terrorism has been "the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes." [dictionary.reference.com].

You can't fathom a definition of "publishers" that includes "people who publish"?

What the hell is your definition of 'publishers' then?

Am I the only one for whom this seems like a case of mass fail in reading comprehenson? Did anyone actually read the letter?

Nowhere in the letter does the State Department say that what Wikileaks is doing is illegal. They use ambiguous and misleading language to imply that but in effect they just keep stating that the original leaker broke the law. If anything, by omission of a direct claim of illegality, this letter is confirmation by the State Department that what Wikileaks did was in fact, TOTALLY LEGAL.

Of course, given that PayPal routinely suspends accounts for absolutely no reason at all we can hardly be surprised if they suspend this one. They've always done this and nobody expects more of them.

>this letter is confirmation by the State Department that what Wikileaks did was in fact, TOTALLY LEGAL.

I don't know USA law that well, certainly not whatever your equivalent of the UK Official Secrets Act is or your counter-espionage laws. But it stricts me as a no-brainer to assume that publishing documents classified by the government as restricted (or above, secret, top-secret, etc.) would be a criminal offence with a pretty hefty jail sentence attached.

Is it really not a crime in the US to publish or hold without clearance documents classified as "secret"?

2.9% plus 30 cents a transaction wouldn't buy a lot of loyalty from me, either. If the Internet cheering squad sent them six figures, that would just about cover what it cost to ring legal and schedule, but not actually run, a meeting to decide what to do about this. Legal would, predictably, say that Paypal was not in the business of taking on risk for people whose business model is trolling Joe Lieberman.

> 2.9% plus 30 cents a transaction wouldn't buy a lot of loyalty from me, either.

And here I was thinking you were a man of principles ;)

> If the Internet cheering squad sent them six figures, that would just about cover what it cost to ring legal and schedule, but not actually run, a meeting to decide what to do about this.

I think the French company OVH went about this the right way, the first thing they did upon finding out that they had wikileaks as a customer they went to a judge to get a ruling.

PayPal could have done the same thing easily.

I am a man of principles. Your mistaken assumption is that they are your principles. :)

Do you think a payment provider owes their users exactly as much loyalty as big are the fees they have collected from them?

Because this is what your comment suggests, and that's a rather unprincipled statement in my book, whatever your principles are. For example, if Paypal acted by this statement, they would allow payment for porn as long as it was profitable for them.

You must have missed my ;) in that bit, it was a reference to this thread:


f(x,y) evaluating to X for some x=X does not imply f(x,y) = x.

France has a different legal system. Under British Common Law (which the US follows) I don't know of any way to get a preemptive ruling that you're in the clear. The best you can do is get a legal opinion from lawyers who, being personally liable for their answers and knowing that judges don't always do what they think judges should do, are always going to suggest the most cautious course of action.

In US civil law this is known as declaratory judgement http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaratory_judgment. I know of no equivalent in criminal law.

Reading about these stories the last few days, it occurs to me the Wikileaks strategy is a major factor here. They have not been selective and released actual stuff that rises to the level of true whistle blowing. While the things released (thus far) might be interesting in the way a tabloid article about a celebrity is interesting, they are hardly at the level of the Pentagon Papers. The world has not learned any deep dark secrets about how the US government operates. Given this situation, when the government leans on PayPal and Amazon, there's nothing for them to hold on to and say, "We're going to fight this because we think the public has a right to know X". X needs to be something pretty important to take that position and all the heat it brings.


First paragraph

"Daniel Ellsberg, the man responsible for outing the now famous Pentagon Papers in 1971, and a group of ex-intelligence officers have thrown their weight behind WikiLeaks and its founder, saying the current attempt to label WikiLeaks' leaks as trivial compared to the Pentagon Papers is wrong."

Also, it's worth noting that the Pentagon Papers were released by a US citizen for the benefit of Americans.

Julian Assange is not a US citizen, is not subject to US law, and did it for the benefit of the World, not the benefit of the US.

He's entitled to his opinion, but I'm still waiting for someone to point me to information in the wikileaks dump that is a genuine public service. I'm not arguing that the wikileaks dump is trivial. There is information in there that is genuinely harmful from the perspective of the State Department and US government. What I'm arguing is that there's nothing actionable there. I haven't read a single thing that made me say, "wow, what I thought I knew about US foreign policy is all wrong". If that were there, it would be a different ballgame.

Are you still waiting for someone to put some food in your mouth too?

These leaks are more than just about the US foreign policy; they're a glimpse into the shady dealings of the "Powerful" all over the world!

Want examples? How about the revelation that Jordan, UAE, Saudis, etc. are urging the US to attack Iran? The details about who ordered the hacking of Google in China? The revelation that rich royals in Saudi Arabia are snorting cocaine, while the average citizens there are caned for showing some skin? Come on! Open your eyes and read the damn things.

Again, it needs to be pointed out that there is nothing revolutionary there. Any surprise at these items serves to demonstrate your naivete more than any groundbreaking insight into the lives of the rich and powerful.

> "Are you still waiting for someone to put some food in your mouth too?"

This is not the level of discourse I've come to expect from HN. Please, lay off the ad hominem snarkiness.

"Ad hominem" doesn't mean "arguments that are phrased meanly/snarkily"

You're right, it isn't quite ad hominem - it is however uncivil, mean-spirited, and a personal put-down, all of which IMHO does not belong on HN.

That's the problem with this WikiLeaks thing, even highly educated, supposedly level-headed people start frothing at the mouth and lose any semblance of rational discourse. There are few moderates and way too many extremists - on both sides.

The stuff about pressuring the Germans not to prosecute a kidnapper may be useful for any anti-kidnapping factions in the US government. I doubt the US government has a united perspective about that.


A US government contractor was running a child sex slave ring in Afghanistan. It's not the Pentagon Papers, but it shows a pattern of behavior that company has engaged in for over a decade.

But the individual leaks aren't the larger goal of WikiLeaks. Addressing the wrongs the leaks uncover is fighting the last war. WikiLeaks is trying to change the system.

I keep hearing people say this, but it's an absurd criticism. Wikileaks has released 817 of the over 200,000 cables. They're working with five news services from around the world to comb through them. This isn't over.

I disagree. The press had largely made the story about Wikileaks, Manning, and the tabloid gossip comments about foreign leaders, but if you go look at the contents of the cables, there are some serious issues. The biggest to me is about the corruption and drug production in our puppet government in Afghanistan. The vice president was caught at the border with $52 million in cash http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contents_of_the_United_States_d... and was allowed to keep it. This actual stuff.

Does anyone know if it is possible to get a freedom of information act inquiry to find out if the state department really did advise/request PayPal to do this?

Yes, it's possible. They'll take as long as possible to reply, at which time everybody but the historians will long have forgotten the entire incident.

No need. Pease see the updated text in the post.

it is interesting to note that the text qouted in the updated article does not say that what wikileaks is doing is illegal, only that initial release of leaked data to wikileaks was illegal.

Good to know, thanks. I'm not sure if I'm happier knowing the State Department didn't request this or knowing that PayPal is still who I thought they were.

I don't have anything against Paypal or any of the other companies who blocked Wikileaks. I guess in a perfect world it is bad, but if Paypal (and whoever else) weren't to do it and the US government did get angry then who'd be affected? That's right, every other customer (including me).

The problem isn't with these companies (although I suspect a lot of this is about how everyone already "hates" Paypal) it's with the governments. It saddens me that these companies are being targeted, people should be shouting at the government(s) putting pressure on the companies, not DDoSing the companies.

I'd rather wikileaks had their account closed than the service I receive be affected, however selfish that may be.

No, the problem is with these companies, too. If there's an issue with a client that is not clearly illegal, then the responsible thing to do is to put the burden of proof on the government. So far, from what I've heard, only a French bank has had the spine to require the government to make specific charges or provide a court order before they would close the account.

This isn't just about government, there is a process, and while corporations are within their legal rights to deny service for whatever reason, that doesn't mean they're acting responsibly.

Especially with a situation as profound as this.

So if the government put pressure on Paypal -- I don't know big business so I don't know what they would do, but I assume it's something Paypal don't want -- to the extent that it would affect customers other than Wikileaks what should they do then?

Paypal support millions of people and businesses, is it not their responsibility (as a business out for profit) to look out for the majority and not a single one? If standing up for Wikileaks would cause problems for everyone else is that "fair"? I guess I'm spineless then, if I was Paypal I'd do what they've done here, heh.

What kind of pressure are we talking about? Anything beyond a phone call that says "We'd like you to do this" would be illegal (blackmail, extortion, etc), and I'd bring the full weight of my law department if any member of government put tangible, material pressure on my company because of something like this.

But if you just get that phone call? You ask for proof, and you wait until they bring it. And you keep going on as business as usual until you get a court order or similar.

> people should be shouting at the government(s) putting pressure on the companies,

No, the government never put any pressure on PayPal. They just read about it in a newspaper and acted on it. Same with Amazon: some dumb-ass Senator from Connecticut raises a question, and Amazon pees in their pants. So the problem _does_ lie with the companies, for being so scared of the government. Some could even say that they're not doing their fiduciary duty by refusing to do business with WikiLeaks, when WikiLeaks hasn't been convicted of any crime.

Maybe Amazon worked out a deal: no national sales tax for an additional year in exchange for dumping WikiLeaks ;) </sarcasm>

I'm not sure why you are being downvoted here. I suspect it's because people are using the down arrow to disagree with you. Whilst I personally don't agree with your PoV, you raise a perfectly valid point: who is to blame for the heavy-handed treatment of a media outlet (wikileaks).

I think it's a great loss that HN has degenerated over the last few years' from a place where you could openly discuss a variety of PoVs in a friendly progressive way, to a place where uncivil rudeness is rewarded and opposing PoV are silenced.

I also think it's ironic that in a thread about openness we punish opposing PoVs.

It's fine, I don't mind downvotes, I'd just like to know why I'm wrong :-) If someone wants to downvote and point out why I'm an idiot, great!

Hey, very interesting philosophy. I've often self-censored because I hate being downvoted (probably a problem with my psyche).

But...I think I might try adopt your philosophy..

Downvoted because of throwaway account, not that you care. But I think that points out a silly game that you're playing:

1. Karma is almost meaningless. No one cares what your karma is, and there's effectively no reason that you should care either, yet

2. you seem to rely on your karma score in order to validate yourself in some way, so

3. you create a throwaway account to absorb the negative karma of your controversial comments, even though

4. your throwaway account is still you, so the account's score is still a reflection on you, and yet

5. you somehow convince yourself that your throwaway account's karma "doesn't count" in terms of your self validation, thus

6. your philosophy regarding karma is inconsistent, and you might as well adopt a new philosophy.

Just be yourself and contribute from a single account when you have something worthwhile to say, karma be damned. There's no reason to create throwaway accounts or care much about what your "score" on HN is.

Consider it your contrarian score rather than karma points. Lower means you're more contrarian.

I agree. Actually, I'd go farther. Why is it wrong for the government to discourage people from doing business with someone they don't like?

Because the role of the government in an allegedly free market is not to boost or squelch specific businesses. That's what happens in planned economies such as the old Soviet Union.

The government already discourages some kinds of business through the creation and enforcement of laws. Going beyond that is not the action of "the government", but can only be the action of individuals within the government abusing power to pursue their own beliefs and agenda.

> Italian Fascism and most other fascist movements promote a corporatist economy whereby, in theory, representatives of capital and labour interest groups work together within sectoral corporations to create both harmonious labour relations and maximization of production that would serve the national interest.


Mussolini went just a wee bit further than complaining about dissidents, no?

It's all in steps.

I think it was a coup, actually.

Coups don't just happen overnight.

Because some of the people that government represents actually do like them. While Assange seems a little bit crazy to me, I can't say that I've seen something that Wikileaks has leaked that I think should have been kept secret. (Of course, I haven't read everything they've released.)

I'd rather that the government be guided by laws than who "they don't like."

Because the logical result of that is less of a slippery slope and more of a slippery cliff.

Because the government should not be partial, and treat everyone the same, (barring laws being broken)? AFAIK, it's not (yet) illegal to be disliked by the government.

Because upholding our American values -- freedom of the press, and the law holding people innocent until proven guilty -- is far more important than the government's preferences.

when has paypal been known for defending their users? or even going the extra mile to talk and try to figure it out themselves? ... it's not only a nightmare to work with them as developer, it's also one to have them as a general service providers.

Yeah, and they've got no ulterior motives? due process anyone?

You don't want to piss off the State Department. They can make things very difficult you in the future. At least, I suspect this might be the strategic thinking of PayPal, Amazon, EveryDNS, MasterCard, Visa, most national media organizations and any other business large enough to care.

"You don't want to piss off the State Department. They can make things very difficult you in the future."

That is the real problem here. Even though the SD can't, or hasn't yet figured out how to charge Wikileaks with a criminal offense, they wield their power as a bullying tactic to get what they want.

"Comply, or else ..." is an abuse of power and is exactly what wikileaks was set up to expose in the first place. Even if the SD does succeed in trouncing wikileaks into oblivion, that very act serves to expose how corrupt governments can be.

Nobody doubts that. Insisting on due process (wait for an official subpoena form a court) would be the legally and ethically correct thing, especially if you want to avoid bad reputation. But wikileaks is pissing off an incredible amount of people, and it's probably a bad idea to stand in the crossfire, so their reaction to try getting out of the story is understandable.

IMO the argumentation of PayPal is pathetic. They did not even have the balls to admit that they just wanted to stay out of trouble and trying to shift the blame to someone else.

On the other hand, from what I know they don't have much reputation left anyway, so it's a bit of a moot point.

Due process is a requirement that the government respect the rights due a person or organization under the law and isn't really relevant here, as the government isn't taking direct action and a private business has the right to not do business with anyone they want. Also, a subpoena is a written order to compel testimony or evidence. I think you mean a court order.

The idea is that the government should be using due process instead of applying unofficial pressure, and better behavior for the businesses would be to insist on that.

Happens everywhere. We were told by one government customer that they weren't happy about the ethnicity/religion of our receptionist.

Not telling us to fire them of course - just a 'friendly briefing' of their 'security concerns'

Due process for a private company deciding who to do business with?


1) Paypal lied to the public. 2) The State dept. effectively ordered content off the web, not unlike China. 3) Paypal hasn't restored service to Wikileaks, even though it's a legal organization.

As an entrepreneur, this is exactly the kind of situation I'm worried about: a service provider (PayPal, Amazon, etc.) shutting me down based on nothing more than somebody in the government disapproving of some of the content on my site.

“One of the signs that you’re a successful payments company is that hackers start to target you, this case isn’t anything different.”

What a non-answer.

updated the title from "State Department Told Us It Was Illegal" to "State Department Said It Was Illegal" following update on TechCrunch post.

If the State Department were to declare Wikileaks illegal, would that make everyone holding Wikileaks Insurance an Enemy of the State?

Luckily, the State Department doesn't have the power to declare something illegal. Please stop adding to the hyperbole of the already heated reactions.

If by something you mean "act", well, they do, it just has no legal effect.

On the other hand, they do have the power to declare organizations terrorists. This is 8 USC 1182, thanks to the patriot act.


Feel free to add me to that list.

I'd say that's a pretty safe bet.

If this be treason, make the most of it. -- Patrick Henry (who might not have actually said it, depending on which source you go to, but the sentiment stands nevertheless)

Julian Assange is no more subject to US law than a US citizen is subject to Iranian law.

US citizens are most certainly subject to Iranian law. Just try to commit a crime there and see what happens.

Note: I am not a fan of Assange. I think his indiscriminate leaking of everything, however inconsequential, harms the whistleblowing process and makes it all too easy to gloss over the real abuses exposed.

But he has not committed a crime in the US. Even if disseminating state secrets is a crime (and the jury's still out on that one, to boot) he didn't do it here.

Would you bet your freedom on that? I haven't seen the dude strolling about in the States...

He's going to pay a big price for his academic experiment. The US government has justifiably killed people over less serious attacks, and citizenship has nothing to do with it. And that's before you get to what has been done without justification (look up Ruby Ridge). When you pick a fight with a giant, you can expect to lose.

Justifiably or self-justifiably? In these days of warrantless searches, crotch invasions, and GPS tracking, it seems "justifiably" lacks the "justice" part. You know, that safeguard called the court. The CIA, for example, was prevented from foreign assassinations after the Church Committee.


[typo edit]

Oh don't get me wrong, I fully expect the US to do... interesting... things to Assange. Still doesn't mean they have a legal case around it, though.

The best they have on him are questionably well-timed sex crime charges.

That's the fascinating part to me. He's operating in this international legal grey area, all the while behaving as if the law will protect him.

He's got the insurance file, though, which sounds like he's not entirely counting on the law protecting him.

And I'm fairly certain the law is fairly low on the CIA's radar of priorities.

Well I've cancelled one of my account with Paypal now. More to come.

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