Wikileaks cyberwar takes legal turn

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Credit card companies face law suits even as their own payment systems buckle.

The cyberwar waged over the detention of Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange took a legal turn overnight even as the credit card companies targeted for disruption fended off renewed assaults from a shadowy collective of hackers.

Wikileaks' Iceland payment processor Datacell ehf took legal action against Mastercard and Visa for breaching its terms of service with the provider by blocking payments to the whistleblowers' website for a week, although that could be extended.

"The suspension of payments towards Wikileaks is a violation of the agreements with their customers," Datacell ehf chief executive officer Andreas Fink posted to the company's website last night.

"Visa users have explicitly expressed their will to send their donations to Wikileaks and Visa is not fulfilling this wish."

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Mastercard and Visa denied hacker reports that their merchant payment systems were disrupted.

Fink said outraged credit card holders were contacting the payment processor "in masses" demanding the right to pledge their financial aid to the embattled publisher that raised the ire of world governments for starting to reveal more than 250,000 US diplomatic despatches.

"It is obvious that Visa is under political pressure to close us down," Fink said.

"We strongly believe a world-class company such as Visa should not get involved by politics and just simply do their business where they are good at. Transferring money.

"They have no problem transferring money for other businesses such as gambling sites, pornography services and the like so why a donation to a website which is holding up for human rights should be morally any worse than that is outside of my understanding."

Fink said credit card companies were causing great damage to their brands and suggested those who wanted to donate should use wire transfers.

"And make sure your local Visa partner knows that it is your sincere wish to donate to Wikileaks using your Visa card," he said. "We will do our best in the meantime to support Wikileaks."

Tango down: Mastercard

Overnight, Anonymous, a collective of hackers in control of bot armies of thousands of infected computers around the world, renewed its assault on Mastercard, taking down its website, which was still suffering disruptions this morning. Operation Payback (Avenge Assange) was a loose-knit band of 5000 hackers and sympathisers operating under the banner of "AnonOps" bent on destroying those who frustrated Wikileaks ambitions to release all the cables in its possession.

As of noon today AEDT, the AnonOps website was returning 404 not found errors.

Mastercard issued a statement denying reports suggesting payment processing and merchant facilities were disrupted. SC Magazine was able to process a "MOTO" (mail order, telephone order) Mastercard transaction through its merchant system at noon.

MasterCard said it had made "significant progress" to restore its corporate website and that "core processing capabilities" were not compromised.

"Cardholder account data has not been placed at risk," the company said in a statement.

"While we have seen limited interruption in some web-based services, cardholders can continue to use their cards for secure transactions globally."

This contradicted unconfirmed reports that Mastercard customer details had leaked into hackers' hands.

PayPal updated statement

The financial services arm of auction giant eBay, PayPal, which was the first payment processor to block Wikileaks access to funds following representations from the US Government, issued an updated statement even as its social media news outlet thepaypalblog was wilting under the heat of continued hacker attacks.

The statement, visible on the Guardian website, indicated it was in response to a roasting one of its senior executives received regarding the company's decision to terminate Wikileaks.

Media reports today regarding a statement made by our vice president of platform, mobile and new ventures, Osama Bedier, at the LeWeb conference in Paris, have created confusion about PayPal's decision to permanently restrict the account that was raising funds for Wikileaks. We want to set the record straight.

As a global payment service that moves billions of our customers' funds across borders and across jurisdictions, we are required to comply with laws around the world. Compliance with these laws is something we take very seriously. PayPal's acceptable use policy states that we do not allow any organisation to use our service if it encourages, promotes, facilitates or instructs others to engage in illegal activity. This policy is part of an agreement we've made with our account holders and with the companies that allow us to process global payments. It's also an important part of our commitment to protect our customers and to ensure our business can continue operating around the world.

In 2008 and 2009, PayPal reviewed and restricted the account associated with WikiLeaks for reasons unrelated to our acceptable use policy. As soon as proper information was received from the account holder, the restrictions were lifted.

The account was again reviewed last week after the US Department of State publicised a letter to Wikileaks on November 27, stating that Wikileaks may be in possession of documents that were provided in violation of US law. PayPal was not contacted by any government organization in the US or abroad. We restricted the account based on our acceptable use policy review. Ultimately, our difficult decision was based on a belief that the Wikileaks website was encouraging sources to release classified material, which is likely a violation of law by the source.

While the account will remain restricted, PayPal will release all remaining funds in the account to the foundation that was raising funds for Wikileaks.

We understand that PayPal's decision has become part of a broader story involving political, legal and free speech debates surrounding Wikileaks' activities. None of these concerns factored into our decision. Our only consideration was whether or not the account associated with Wikileaks violated our acceptable use policy and regulations required of us as a global payment company. Our actions in this matter are consistent with any account found to be in violation of our policies.

 


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