Democracy works in theory because it empowers individuals and provides them with the means to pick their leaders and lead their lives as they best see fit. But what if an individual speaks out against the system? Would he or she still enjoy the protected rights that a democracy supposedly guarantees?
The case of Julian Assange seems to display that democrat rights only belong to the rich and influential. Assange is the man behind the whistle-blowing WikiLeaks. He used the power of new technology to not only gain access to top secret information but also to broadcast the information to the world. The U.S. Justice Department has not pressed any charges against Assange or his website, yet American financial institutions are in the midst of waging a war against WikiLeaks.
Visa, MasterCard, PayPal and Bank of American have refused to process any transaction that would benefit WikiLeaks. The Federal Reserve allows banks to refuse certain business if it is determined that the entity is too risky to deal with or is engaged in criminal activity. WikiLeaks has not engaged in any charged criminal activity. The refusal to allow payments to WikiLeaks put the organization into a perilous position, which forced Assange to seek other sources of income to keep his website afloat.
Banks act as a utility in a democratic society. Payments are a necessary function to keep organizations running. Other utilities cannot be shut off at the discretion of management. A water company cannot shut off service to the Democratic Party because the owner does not like their politics.
When WikiLeaks announced that it had documents from a Bank of America executive the financial institutions seemed to unite. Despite the technology that provided WikiLeaks with the means to publish, the power of the banks has made it difficult for the free flow of information to continue. Should banks control information? The future of the Internet depends on the answer.