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Visa and MasterCard funding returns to WikiLeaks via French payment gateway

WikiLeaks and its partner FDNN are unsure how long the new payments gateway will remain open

Using Visa or MasterCard for donations to WikiLeaks was made possible again Wednesday when the French organization Defense Fund Net Neutrality (FDNN) started accepting payments via those credit card providers through the French Carte Bleue systems.

"Despite Visa and Mastercard cutting off payments to WikiLeaks, we have found some ways around the banking blockade, at least for now," WikiLeaks announced on its website.

Donations to WikiLeaks were blocked by MasterCard, Visa, Western Union, Bank of America and PayPal after it began to release some 250,000 secret U.S. diplomatic cables in November 2010, making it hard for the organization to raise funds. With the blockade in place, WikiLeaks donations were reduced by 95 percent and cost the organization over $20 million, according to WikiLeaks.

FDNN decided to help fight the blockade upon WikiLeaks' request, said FDNN's president Benjamin Bayart in a blog post. "FDNN uses the French national banking system, Carte Bleue, to process these payments, rather than using Visa and Mastercard directly. So, for the moment, whilst we are still able to run this, we are enabling the public to use their credit cards to donate to WikiLeaks," he wrote.

FDNN is a French not-for-profit organization. Its main goal is to help fund projects and organizations involved in the defense of net neutrality, and more widely on the defense of free speech on the Internet, the organization states on its website.

The French credit card system Carte Bleue is coupled with the Visa and MasterCard systems globally, and Visa and MasterCard are contractually barred from directly cutting off merchants through the Carte Bleue system, said WikiLeaks in a news release. However, WikiLeaks expects that Visa and MasterCard will attempt to shut down this donation option when they can.

FDNN's Bayart, though, said in an email that financial companies in France most likely have no interest in taking a public relations risk by blocking payments to FDNN. French financial institutions are less related to the U.S. government than Visa and MasterCard are, and WikiLeaks has become less visible, he noted, adding that he did not expect a blockade. But if donations are blocked, FDNN will sue "whoever is necessary" in a French court, he said.

Neither Visa nor MasterCard responded to requests for comment.

People who want to donate can do so by paying an amount to FDNN. WikiLeaks is not the only organization FDNN accepts funding for. On the donation part of the organization's site, donors can also choose to benefit four other projects via a pull-down menu, including La Quadrature du Net, an advocacy group defending rights of citizens on the Internet, and April, a French advocacy group that promotes and protects open source software.

The amount entered on the site will be recorded as a promise to make an immediate donation using a credit card, FDNN said. The donor will then be directed to the website of FDNN's French bank, where the payment can be made. "Thus, we will never have your credit card information, which is a warranty to be safe for you," the organization states.

The donors' data that is passed to the bank consists of the date, the amount, the transaction number, the merchant's name ("FDNN") and the email address used. A check of the Web form's source code shows that the destination organization is not passed on to the bank.

In addition to announcing the new donation system, WikiLeaks published a report about the impact the blockade had on its finances. For 2011, WikiLeaks' income fell to just 21 percent of its operating costs, according to data provided by the Wau Holland Foundation, a nonprofit foundation in Germany that handles transfers and donations to WikiLeaks.

The organization has run on its cash reserves at the Wau Holland Foundation, which decreased from ¬800,000 (US$982,000) at the end of December 2010 to less than ¬100,000 at the end of June 2012, WikiLeaks said, adding that its reserve funds will probably expire within a few months. "In order to effectively continue its mission, WikiLeaks must raise a minimum of ¬1 million immediately," it said.

WikiLeaks is fighting the payment blockade on different fronts. An Icelandic court ordered last Thursday that payments processor Valitor had to reopen a gateway hosted by DataCell for Visa and MasterCard donations to WikiLeaks. Valitor was ordered to reopen the handling of Visa and MasterCard donations within two weeks. However, the gateway will probably remain closed while Valitor appeals the case.

DataCell also filed a complaint about the WikiLeaks payment blockade with the European Commission. A decision from the Commission on whether or not to pursue financial companies that are blocking donations is expected before the end of August. WikiLeaks is also involved in similar litigation against Danish payments processor Teller.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com


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