Friday, January 29, 2010

Paypal and politics

Disturbing news from the UK: Paypal has blocked donations to the Arrest Blair campaign, supposedly on the basis that it "encourages illegal activity" (conducting a lawful citizens arrest of a rich and powerful figure apparently being illegal in the eyes of PayPal). It's a blatantly political move - and its not the first time they've done it. Last week, they froze the assets of Wikileaks - a site which encourages and publishes anonymous leaks in the public interest, and is credited with "produc[ing] more scoops in its short life than the Washington Post has in the past 30 years".

There may or may not be a link, but regardless, its a signal warning of the dangers of outsourcing your currency to a private company which may have its own political agenda. Being the default payment channel for the internet gives PayPal power - power they can abuse to shut down anyone, silence any cause. Such a concentration of power is dangerous in a democracy, and it raises the spectre of corporate control and censorship. What if they decide to shut down the women's rights movement? The climate change movement? Anyone calling for tighter regulation of banks?

With civil society increasingly going online, this is not a risk we can afford to take. It is time to regulate PayPal to protect our democracy.