The outrageous behavior of Amazon, Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal directed at WikiLeaks represents a much greater threat to America than any of the alleged security breaches from Julian Assange.
These companies moved to cut off WikiLeaks’ ability to collect donations and distribute information because of the hysterical fulminations of headline hungry politicians and embarrassed bureaucrats.
“No internet user can publish without the use of an internet server and other internet companies,” lamented Marcia Hofmann, senior staff attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“If they don’t like your message, you can’t get your message out,” she told Village Voice Media.
But WikiLeaks is guilty of nothing and convicted of less.
Amazon, Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal set themselves up as judges, juries and executioners.
And perhaps more troubling is that while the mainstream media happily regurgitated, repurposed and — in the case of The New York Times — reported the context of the released diplomatic cables, they have been noticeably silent as web conglomerates reshaped the First Amendment.
Or, as in the case of The Washington Post and The Washington Times, they’ve joined the ninnies calling for Assange’s head.
The chief enabler is Barack Obama’s Attorney General, Eric H. Holder who announced that the Justice Department and the Pentagon were in the midst of “an ongoing criminal investigation.”
The key word is “investigation.”
The Attorney General has yet to charge anyone, let alone bring the case.
This is the same Attorney General who has investigated Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio — the sadistic and brutal jailer who flouts the Constitution in pursuit of Mexicans. The FBI and the Justice Department have had Arpaio under investigation, on a variety of fronts, since 2008. The Sheriff’s jails have been declared “unconstitutional” by the same Justice Department since 1996.
Have banks or credit card companies seized Sheriff Arpaio’s home because he is under investigation?
Did any internet company deny Sheriffi Arpaio access to his extensive, online marketing empire?
No, that has not happened.
But, with the patriots in Congress howling, Amazon and the others moved to isolate and strangle WikiLeaks.
And the press does not speak out when the single largest document dump in the history of the media results in financial institutions determining when the flow of information will stop?
PayPal’s president, Osama Bedler, explained his action by pointing out that the State Department claimed WikiLeaks’ dissemination of cables was illegal in a November 27 letter to Assange.
And so they did.
And so what?
The State Department is not a judicial body. It is part of the Executive branch — and furthermore, they were the target of the revelations.
“It is the role of the court to decide if someone has committed a crime,” noted Hofmann.
The State Department had an opinion. And they were welcome to it.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the WikiLeaks’ cables “tear at the fabric of good government.”
Some might say that what tears at the fabric of good government is a president impeached for lying under oath. Frankly, lying, in this instance by the state department, is the heart of the drama here. (Though to read the press, you’d think sex in Sweden was the issue.)
And because Representative Peter King said WikiLeaks is a “terrorist” organization, because Senators Diane Feinstein and Joseph Lieberman allege Assange violated a creaky Espionage Act, internet businesses feel free to cut off the air in the on-going debate about the First Amendment on the web.
“Your rights on the internet are only as strong as the will of companies to let you have it,” observed Hofmann.
In such an anarchic environment, is it any wonder that anarchists have responded with the only weapons left?
Congressional hearings are now scheduled for this Thursday, December 16. The House Judiciary Committee will not, I predict, worry much about the First Amendment.
No good will come to free speech in such a political forum.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 14, 2010