Concerned about WikiLeaks donation blocks, Swedish party reports banks to regulator

The Swedish Pirate Party wants a probe of banks' role in the blocking of donations by Visa, PayPal and others

The Swedish Pirate Party this week filed an official complaint against Swedish banks for their part in a blockade against donations to WikiLeaks.

Since 2010, a number of payment service providers, including Visa, MasterCard and PayPal, have blocked donations to WikiLeaks through its payments processor DataCell. The Swedish Pirate Party says that this behavior is unacceptable and a cause for grave concern.

The charges were filed with the Swedish Finansinspektionen, the authority that oversees bank licenses and abuse of position. In Sweden, complaints cannot be filed directly against the credit card companies, so the Pirate Party is asking the Finansinspektionen to examine the banks' role.

"The banks basically comply with what MasterCard and Visa want," said Anna Troberg, head of the Swedish Pirate Party. "But if they take on the job of transferring peoples' money, they should transfer peoples' money if it is not clearly illegal."

"Our complaint is formally about WikiLeaks, but it is not only a problem for WikiLeaks. Other legal businesses have suffered from this," added Troberg, referring to various Swedish entrepreneurs such as sex toy shops and horror movie stores that have also been denied payment.

Meanwhile DataCell filed a complaint with the European Commission last year, claiming the blockade is a violation of European competition rules. But in November the Commission indicated that it was unlikely to take the matter further because, based on the information available, it couldn't see how any infringement of E.U. competition rules could be established.

However, the European Parliament called for new legislation to regulate credit card companies' ability to unilaterally refuse service. Swedish Pirate Party member of the European Parliament, Christian Engström, said that "it is not reasonable that Visa, MasterCard and PayPal can unilaterally block donations to WikiLeaks."

"This happened without legal grounds and should be regarded as the three companies collaborating in helping the American government to silence an inconvenient voice. It is unacceptable that private corporations have that kind of power over free speech."

WikiLeaks says the blockade has destroyed 95 percent of its revenue, costing the organization more than US$50 million.

There is no deadline for the Finansinspektionen to respond to the Pirate Party and the process is likely to take a couple of months.

(Additional reporting by Loek Essers in Amsterdam.)

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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