Monday, December 27, 2010

NYT: Bank Of America's Barring WikiLeaks Raises Troubling Speech Issues

The Bank of America joined Visa, MasterCard and PayPal in refusing to process payments intended for WikiLeaks, founded by Julian Assange (left). While acknowledging that the Federal Reserve allows a bank to decline business with an "undesirable entity"–even one like WikiLeaks, neither convicted of, nor charged with, a crime–an editorial in the New York Times suggests that it's not that simple:

...a bank’s ability to block payments to a legal entity raises a troubling prospect. A handful of big banks could potentially bar any organization they disliked from the payments system, essentially cutting them off from the world economy.

The Bank of America could be a case in point, with implications for free speech and a free press:

...The decisions to bar the organization came after its founder, Julian Assange, said that next year it will release data revealing corruption in the financial industry. In 2009, Mr. Assange said that WikiLeaks had the hard drive of a Bank of America executive.

What would happen if a clutch of big banks decided that a particularly irksome blogger or other organization was “too risky”? What if they decided — one by one — to shut down financial access to a newspaper that was about to reveal irksome truths about their operations? This decision should not be left solely up to business-as-usual among the banks.


Neil said...

Nice post, this is very troubling. It really illustrates how the banks have been able to get away with all they have. Money is power, and power corrupts. I'm not the biggest fan of Assange or Wikileaks but this is a blatant violations of their rights.

Jeff Tone said...

Thanks, Neil. Yes, there are free speech issues here with troubling implications regardless of one's opinion of Assange or WikiLeaks.