PayPal Should Have Stuck With “the Government Made Me Do It”

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Paypal’s General Counsel, John Muller, issued a clarification of PayPal’s position on restricting the Wikileaks account earlier in the week.  You can read it for yourself, but I was struck by his description of their Acceptable Use Policy and how he uses this to justify the action taken.

Specifically, Mr. Muller explains:

“PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy states that we do not allow any organization to use our service if it encourages, promotes, facilitates or instructs others to engage in illegal activity.”

A few paragraphs later he explains why Wikileaks’ account was restricted:

“The account was again reviewed last week after the U.S. Department of State publicized a letter to WikiLeaks on November 27, stating that WikiLeaks may be in possession of documents that were provided in violation of U.S. law.  PayPal was not contacted by any government organization in the U.S. 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.”

What PayPal is saying is that a site that in effect provides a safe haven for people to reveal illegal activity, is actually encouraging people to engage in illegal activity.  The fact that someone broke the law in providing the most recent batch of cables does not mean that Wikileaks is encouraging people to break the law.  Certainly, none of the people who are providing the information are getting paid for doing so.  They are not seeking fame either.  So in what way exactly, is Wikileaks encouraging that people engage in illegal activity.  It’s like saying that a gun store is promoting that people engage in illegal activity because they sell guns which can be used for committing illegal activities.

Mr. Muller also does something strange in the last part of the sentence where he describes their decision.  Instead of simply saying that the released classified material “is a violation of law by the source”, he throws in the qualifier “likely”, as in the released classified material “is *likely* a violation of law by the source”.  In other words, PayPal is acting on a hunch since they clearly don’t know that it’s a violation of the law.  Saying it’s likely doesn’t make it so.

After reading this nonsense, I would suggest to PayPal that they leverage the opportunity provided to them by our ethically challenged legislators, and just go along with the excuse that they got a call from Senator Lieberman pressuring them like the other companies, and be done with it.  At least then we can just say that PayPal bowed to government pressure, rather than having to think that this company is represented by morons, which is the natural conclusion to reach from the excuse they’re trying to get us to believe.  Really PayPal, that’s the best you got?

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