Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
WikiLeaks wins case against Visa (rt.com)
325 points by Kenan on July 15, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 48 comments

The headline is a little misleading. DataCell, Wikileaks hosting provider, actually won a case against the local company Valitor, VISA's issuer and processor in Iceland. Also in case you're wondering as I was, Wikileaks was not awarded compensatory damages but Valitor must reopen their payment gateway within 2 weeks (although they can still appeal to a higher court).

The source of the submitted article, rt.com, is not known for careful journalism. I'll check what other sources say about the full implications of the case.

After edit: Now I've had time to check some other news sources.


"The implications of the judgment, which Valitor plans to appeal, weren’t immediately clear.

"Even if Valitor is eventually forced to comply with the judgment, it isn’t clear whether Visa or MasterCard would allow their customers to make donations to DataCell or WikiLeaks. Both companies have refused to deal with WikiLeaks for the better part of two years, leading to allegations that they had bowed to U.S. pressure to starve the organization of funds."


"The Associated Press reports that Valitor can appeal the decision, but even if it chooses to comply with the judgment, it’s not clear that Visa or MasterCard will still allow customers to make donations to DataCell or WikiLeaks."

> The source of the submitted article, rt.com, is not known for careful journalism.

Understatement of the year.

Remember, that's "R" as in "Russia", which really isn't a region renowned for reliable reporting.

As opposed to the United States of Murdoch (?!)

Yes. Because Fox News exists, US journalism is totally no more reputable than Russian journalism.

My father once said "The difference between American and Russian propaganda is that Russians know that Pravda is propaganda."

The problem with American media is certainly not limited to Fox.

That and the Russian propaganda machine might at any moment decide to have you killed.

How convincing do you think these epigrams actually are? The reality is that the US media market provides a vastly more credible stream of current events information than Russia's ever has. Does that make the US media credible? It's hard to say. Russia is a very, very low bar to clear.

The best lies incorporate as much truth as possible. I believe you're suggesting the same thing I am -- that the US propaganda machine is much more subtle, and therefore more credible.

A false narrative is a false narrative, regardless of how skillfully it is intertwined with truth.

I think he's suggesting that terms like the "US propaganda machine" are, to use a technical term, "bullshit", in the sense that there are a great deal of competing interests and players in the news market in the US, as well as various competing interests in politics. Talking about a machine makes it sound like you're talking about one centrally controlled system that in reality does not exist.

That's not to say there aren't problems with the news industry in the US and elsewhere, but it's not some giant conspiracy either.

There's no need for a conspiracy or for central organization when incentives align. In this case, the incentives to manipulate are often financial or political. You have misunderstood my meaning of "machine" -- not all social systems involve a central authority.

I hope you can agree that American media can be influenced, for profit, by monied interests. If you agree, then you acknowledge the system I have described above.

But there are many different monied interests! Sometimes they conflict with one another. Sometimes they conflict with popular interests. For instance, Fox News certainly isn't on the same page as Obama, or the Clintons, and yet they are pretty powerful in their own ways. It hardly sounds like a machine, but a competitive environment. Certainly not a perfect one, but not nearly so sinister as a label like "the US propaganda machine".

Nowhere did I suggest the message was cohesive. It is very much an arena of competing propaganda. The mention of a unified conspiratorial message was a strawman introduced by tptacek, not I.

As for your complaint about the sinister tone, I think offering deference to those with money rather than those with truth is quite sinister. I think it's sad you disagree.

You're implying a false equivalence.

I'm curious, where and how do you watch the Russian media to say that?

Without even mentioning Fox News or any Murdoch/Newscorp-owned properties, one could still make a strong case for a sorry state of journalism in the United States.

I'm sure you're right, and that Washington reporters live in a constant state of fear that if they delve too deeply into Obama or Romney's affairs, someone will shoot them to death on a train platform.

Death threats aren't the only thing a government can do to reduce the reliability of the press. Whistle blower prosecutions, contempt of court charges for journalists protecting sources, NYT shelving articles until after elections, the tiptoeing the white house press corps does as to not lose access, etc. All of these indicate reduced reputation of the press in the USA.

The US of Murdoch comment was a brash characterization, but how does rehashing the state of Russian press address the idea that US news sources lack reliability? All news sources should be treated with skepticism, Russian or not.

You've made a fine case for the US media being deeply imperfect, but I'm not sure I see which comment on this thread that point is responsive to.

land of the free (ish)

Why does everything have to be a competition? Just because somebody calls out Russian journalism doesn't mean that they are implicitly praising American journalism.

Didn't the Court say that Visa stopped like $20 million worth of donations to Wikileaks? What would be the reason for not giving them any compensation?

Was this really the main obstacle for donations involving Visa? Does forcing the Icelandic arm of Visa to accept donations mean that Americans will be able to donate to Wikileaks? It seems farfetched that an international company as large as Visa would actually follow these orders, seeing as they probably want to protect themselves from leaks involving their own interests.

If a company has a branch in a given country, that country can hold the local branch legally responsible for the actions of branches elsewhere, including non-compliance with local rulings. Unless VISA wants to close VISA Iceland (Valitor) completely and write off the entire country, they either have to win their appeal or comply with the ruling.

> It seems farfetched that an international company as large as Visa would actually follow these orders, seeing as they probably want to protect themselves from leaks involving their own interests.

Not at all. It is just about which is most valuable to VISA. Not losing the Icelandic market or complying with the wishes of the US government.

This is the reason why not just European companies pay up when fined by the European Court. You have the choice to either comply and pay the fine or to leave the country (perhaps getting all your assets there confiscated).

It might be worth leaving Iceland since it is a quite small country. It all depends on how much complying with the US government is worth and how big the PR hit of leaving Icleand is.

RT also did an awesome program with Assange while he was under house arrest:


Didn't Citizens United effectively say that donating money is protected speech? Apparently we need a Wikileaks party in the US.

No. It said that spending money on advertising was protected speech. Citizens United actually stated that direct donations, or advertising in concert with candidates (essentially gifts in kind) could still be criminalized.

(I actually read the opinion.)

So, basically.. you can get your guy elected by helping spread the message by pouring money into advertising, just not buy him, or buy votes etc...?

And you can't coordinate your message with him. In other words he can't tell you what to say and you can't run your message by him.

This seems a bit strange - protected speech is no longer protected if you consult someone about it before you say it?

It gets worse, I am afraid. Look at Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project.

It's protected speech if you blog saying "Terrorist organizations should adopt non-violent methods of resistance instead of blowing up cafes. Here's how it might work as an overall strategy, using Hamas as an example...."

However if you print this out and mail it to Hamas, that's not protected, and may be offering expert assistance to a foreign terrorist organization....

Apparently the First Amendment no longer protects the question of who you talk to.

It's kinda funny this was downvoted since both Citizens united and HLP both drew this funny line at "who you talk to or with." It's a line I don't understand the justification for and it seems dangerous to me, but it is what we are stuck with.

This is a pretty poor article, unsurprising coming from an arm of the Russian government that employs Julian Assange. Here's a summary without any politics or conspiracy theories.

So, each payment that Visa or Mastercard process comes with a risk. If that payment was made with a stolen card, Visa and Mastercard are on the hook for it. Because of that, for example, the fee the merchant pays per transaction can be wildly different depending on its nature.

In-person transaction with a signed receipt at a coffee shop: pretty safe. Internet payment: riskier. Require a CCV from the customer, a bit safer. Customer is from a foreign bank? Risky again. Online pharmacy: even riskier. Check this out: http://www.mastercard.com/us/merchant/pdf/MasterCard_Interch...

Merchants also are subject to credit checks... they do a lot to make sure they won't be on the hook for a bunch of chargebacks.

Some categories of purchase are considered too risky to even consider. From Visa/Mastercard's perspective, if you're going to be receiving a ton of donations from paranoid hackers who took down your own website and probably think they're being tracked and monitored by the US government (which they very well may be), it's probably safe to guess there may be some stolen card numbers in there and are not going agree to let payments to Wikileaks go through their system.

So, Wikileaks and their data host came up with a brilliant idea: their host, DataCell, will sign up to receive payments with their credentials, and then it'll give the money they raised to Wikileaks. They entered into a contract with Valitor (which isn't a subsidiary of Visa or anything: it's just one of three card processors in Iceland, who handles acquiring services for Visa and Mastercard) saying that they will be collecting payments for their data hosting services.

They write a donation page and get everything set up, test it out, and then after a couple weeks turn it on. About a week after that (or possibly the same day, according to one source http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-12/iceland-court-order...), Visa and Mastercard call Valitor up... kinda like how they call you up if you make an unexpected $1000 purchase in another country out of the blue. They say, "hey, you guys are sure selling a lot of servers, or whatever. What's going on there?"

Valitor has to come clean and say that people are paying Datacell with the expectation of that money going to Wikileaks. Visa and Mastercard say, "oh, that's pretty clearly not what we signed up for here: this is, like, millions of high-risk payments. You're gonna have to cancel that account." And they do.

So now Datacell sues them for breach of contract. The contract pretty clearly states that Datacell is not allowed to use their account to process payments for other parties. This is Valitor's only defense. Datacell's argument is super weak. They say they are not processing payments for other parties, but that their core business includes allowing their customers to collect payments. The payments intended for Wikileaks are part of the principal business and they're collecting that money to offset the cost of paying Wikileaks.

The judge pretty much ignores that argument but finds in favor of Datacell anyway. Valitor had full knowledge going into the contract that DataCell was going to be processing payments for Wikileaks. Its employees provided help in designing and creating the Wikileaks website, and they tested the website for them. Because Valitor knew this was going to be used for Wikileaks fundraising, they cannot now argue that that isn't allowed by contract.

So, Valitor will appeal this decision, but if it holds up, they'll probably just wind up going out of business (unless they decide $6000/day is affordable). Visa and Mastercard are just gonna turn them down as customers because this was some fraudy shit they pulled. They'll go out of business, and Icelandic merchants will just have to sign up with one of their two competitors instead.

There is no situation in which Visa is left on the hook for accepting a fraudulent payment. AFAIK, they have zero liability. Customers have no direct relationship with Visa in which they can demand money for misuse of their card, they have only a member agreement signed with the card issuing bank that makes such anti-fraud guarantees. So the bank is on the hook.

Except not really. The bank passes on full liability to the merchant that accepted the payment. When the chargeback occurs, the payment is taken back from the merchant, plus a bunch extra as a chargeback fee to cover the costs of pushing around the forms between banks and taking the report from the cardholder over the phone. Knowing this only works when the merchant still has the money to take back, any hint of a merchant going over 1% of their monthly volume in chargebacks will generally trigger the bank to start holding back some or all of their payments in a reserve fund to cover the potential chargebacks.

The only way for the bank to be on the hook is if the merchant (like Wikileaks) passes the risk assessment enough to start accepting cards, and has a clean chargeback record up until the point a massive number of them come in, AND when the bank tries to recover that money, the merchant's already drained their bank account so there's nothing to recover.

If that happens, the bank's screwed, but Visa's still perfectly happy having taken 1-4% of every charge, even the fraudulent ones, with no liability for the stolen cards.

Why bother expanding on that tidbit? Because if Visa has zero liability, then why would Visa corporate be telling anyone not to accept cards from Wikileaks? That's not normal. The people that decide who can accept Visa cards are the underwriting departments at individual banks that back merchant service providers, not employees at Visa Inc.

The 1-4% you mention is the interchange rate. This is collected by the issuing bank, and not Visa. Visa typically receives a separate flat fee per transaction. Although often payment processors will charge the merchant a flat percentage fee which includes the interchange fees, acquiring bank fees, association fees, and the payment processors fees.

Visa Europe (a separate company from Visa USA) would likely have to assume liability for chargebacks in the event that the acquiring bank went out of business without transferring it's Visa business to another bank. I'm not sure if such a situation has ever happened though. In general the liability goes: Merchant -> Payment Processor -> Acquiring Bank -> Visa.

I think I knew that, but forgot. I have no real direct experience with this other than once signing up to be a merchant, but my girlfriend once worked for a processing company. Visa still has incentive to prevent fraud, though, right? Even if just for its own reputation? Banks probably won't issue Visa cards if they can't trust they won't be used fradulantly? If Visa has zero liability, then why would Visa corporate be investing in fraud protection at all?

Anyway, I didn't mean to speculate on motivations. I just wanted to explain that this is just some small Icelandic card processing company that got sued by a small data hosting company after they both conspired to funnel Wikileaks payments through as payments for data services and Visa and Mastercard objected.

It's far from the WIKILEAKS DEFATS VISA headline, especially since neither were party to the lawsuit.

  unsurprising coming from an arm of the Russian government that employs Julian Assange. 
This is a pretty serious accusation. I'm sure you can provide us with proof.

Can you be a bit more specific, please.

The poster claimed that Mr. Assange is something like a russian spy tool. The link you provided is to a pretty generic "channel" on a website pretty much discrediet by most posters in this thread.

There should be something more tangible, and credible, for such an accusation.

I'd appreciate something more specific. Thanks.

All the original said in this regard was that RT employs Assange, which is a fairly uncontroversial factual statement.

Of course. Wikileaks missed out on $20M but it was all a big misunderstanding, really.

I'd downvote you if it was not for the rare beauty of this display of cognitive dissonance and apologetics.

Sure it'd be better if they could hold Visa/Mastercard directly responsible, but obviously they can't (yet?).

How can Visa or MasterCard censor what I can do with my money, especially when it comes to an entity that has to this day not even been charged with a crime?

It speaks to our "obedient sheep" nature that there has been no outcry about this.

Some will say: "Well Visa and MasterCard are private companies", which is technically true of course, but when they handle the majority of all private money transaction there are other factors at play.

Don't credit card providers' terms of service give them the right to block payments to those that use the service in violation?

In violation of what? Journalism is not illegal.

I'm not arguing for or against Wikileaks as illegal, I'm just wondering if, from a purely legal standpoint, Visa has a right to refuse service to a business based on their terms of service?

It's funny to read a comment here a couple days ago (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4237027), bemoaning the quality of the reddit frontpage, for this 'story' just appearing there.

Two days later, it's the second highest story on the Hacker News frontpage.

Visa, helping shady soveriegn's levy secret and illegal financial warfare against political international opponents since forever. Priceless.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact