This hasn’t been the best week for WikiLeaks, to put it mildly. Coinbase has shut off the WikiLeaks Shop’s account for allegedly violating the cryptocurrency exchange’s terms of service. In other words, the leak site just lost its existing means of converting payments like bitcoin into conventional money. While Coinbase didn’t give a specific reason (it declines to comment on specific accounts), it pointed to its legal requirement to honor “regulatory compliance mechanisms” under the US’ Financial Crimes Enforcement Network.
This doesn’t prevent WikiLeaks from accepting cryptocurrency, but it will have to scramble to find an alternative if it wants to continue taking digital money from customers buying shirts and coffee cups. Unsurprisingly, the organization is less than thrilled — it’s calling for a “global blockade” of Coinbase, claiming that the exchange is reacting to a “concealed influence.”
As Andreas Antonopoulos and The Verge observe, there’s a degree of irony here: WikiLeaks adopted cryptocurrency in 2010 precisely to get away from conventional payment services that had shut off access. Formats like bitcoin supposedly couldn’t be held back. As you may have noticed, though, regulators see things differently — they’ve increasingly cracked down on potential abuses. That doesn’t necessarily say anything about WikiLeaks’ culpability, but Coinbase’s action isn’t coming out of the blue.