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Thursday: Hotter than Hell

Have a little indie synthpop if your day isn’t hot enough. The artist Dua Lipa lives in London; she originally moved to the United Kingdom in the 1990s with her parents who are Kosovar-Albanian. Imagine a UK to which artists like Lipa cannot easily immigrate.

Money, money, money

  • HSBC’s global head of Forex trading in London arrested at JFK on Tuesday (Bloomberg) — Mark Johnson was picked up before his flight by the feds; his counterpart, Stuart Scott, HSBC’s former head of currency trading in Europe, has also been charged with Johnson for conspiracy to manipulate currency based on insider information. The transaction on which the case is based took place in 2011, earning HSBC $8 million on a $3.1 billion deal. Gee, I wonder if these guys worked the pre- and post-Brexit fall of the pound.
  • Mastercard snaps up UK’s VocaLink for $920M (Businesswire) — Should probably keep a tally of UK businesses bought while pound is still down from pre-referendum highs. VocaLink gives Mastercard huge reach in payroll and household bill processing across UK and access to a substantive majority of UK consumer data.
  • Subzero bond yields: who’d have predicted this? (Bloomberg) — Analysis of overall trends this year, including flights to safety and their effect on the market. Still trying to wrap my head around subzero bond yields; does this make sense to pay for safekeeping without expectation of increase in value at the end? What might this do to consumption and growth?

Daily dose of cyber

  • Forbidden Research: fixing “leaky” cellphones (MIT Media Lab) — Electrical engineer/hacker Andrew “bunnie” Huang and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden published a paper presented at today’s MIT’s Forbidden Research event, outlining their work countering surveillance abuse by law enforcement. Journalists in particular are targets for surveillance; their cellphones “leak” all kinds of information about them and their location which airplane mode does not shield. Huang and Snowden propose a method for monitoring radio transmissions by a cellphone, including GPS, and a means for killing the transmissions. Abstract here, and the paper itself here. Very straightforward reads even for the non- to low-tech audience.
  • Dead man’s prints brought back from the dead (Fusion) — Law enforcement approached a Michigan State University professor Anil Jain and his PhD student Sunpreet Arora and asked them to recreate a dead man’s fingerprints in order to unlock his phone. There are few details disclosed about the case — not even which law enforcement agency made the ask — but the phone belonged to a murder victim and may contain information about his murderer. Or so the story says.
  • UK’s largest internet provider suffers two days of massive outages (TechRadar) — Outages have been blamed on power failures, but no additional information offered on reasons for power loss. Coincidentally, a C1 solar flare which began on July 17 caused radio disruption and aurora over the last 15-24 hours — might have made the situation worse.
  • France’s National Data Protection Commission says Microsoft Windows 10 operating system gathers too much personal data (Libération + BetaNews) — Surprised La Commission nationale de l’informatique et des libertés (CNIL) haven’t cuffed up Microsoft sooner given every version of Windows “phoned home” within information about its users and devices when patching and updating. Why is it Windows 10 in particular doesn’t comply with their Data Protection Act — is it the sniffing of users’ navigation data? Microsoft responded to CNIL’s complaint, not denying the claim but only saying it will work with CNIL on a solution. Right, then.

Tonight’s dinner and a movie: Jujubes and Ghostbusters. Yum. Stay cool, look after elderly neighbors and pets who need a reprieve from the heat.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

First They Came for WikiLeaks … Then They Came for Pot Dispensaries … Then Online Sharing

Remember when Visa and PayPal cut off services to WikiLeaks as a result of what was clearly Administration pressure? The Administration never explicitly revealed it had pressured the financial services companies to cut off WikiLeaks. It never offered any due process. Just–poof! WikiLeaks was no longer welcome to use a public service other corporate-people were able to.

And almost no one blinked at that abuse of due process.

Then Visa and MasterCard cut off pot dispensaries in California.

Your credit is no longer any good at California medical marijuana dispensaries, whose accounts with credit card processors have been canceled, thanks to pressure from the federal government.
Merchant services providers — the intermediaries between retailers and credit card companies who process customers’ payments — began informing their medical marijuana dealing clients that cannabis credit card transactions would not be processed after July 1, according to Stephen DeAngelo, Executive Director of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center.
No government agency is taking credit for making marijuana a cash-only business. But the “factual pattern” is as follows, DeAngelo said: Officials from the Treasury Department flexed on credit card companies, who then informed merchant services providers that they’d be “dropped from Visa and MasterCard forever” unless they stopped processing medical marijuana payments.

And PayPal has imposed new terms of services on file-sharing sites that will allow it to monitor sites for content.

According to TorrentFreak, PayPal has recently changed its terms of service, making requirements for file-sharing and newsgroup services far tighter than before.

The payment service, owned by eBay, now requires that “merchants must prohibit users from uploading files involving illegal content and indicate that users involved in such file transfers will be permanently removed from their service,” and that “merchants must provide PayPal with free access to their service, so PayPal’s Acceptable Use Policy department can monitor the content.”

The pot dispensary move is really heartless: as the article points out, it means customers have to walk around with wads of cash. And since a lot of medical marijuana customers are on disability, it means poor people can’t afford themselves the flexibility offered by credit cards.

And in addition to the specific injustice of undermining otherwise legal businesses, there’s the general issue. As it does with international financial exchange, so the Government is now doing with corporate entities in the US, picking and choosing which ones will have access to modern financial services and which won’t.

It’s an arbitrary exercise of power against entities the government can’t or won’t make a legal, due process entailing case against.

Maybe you’ll arbitrarily lose your credit card privileges next!

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Credit Card Companies Forestall Legal Trouble by Allowing Donations via DataCell

Credit card of future

Credit card of future by Robert Scoble

Remember that suit Wikileaks’ hosting company, DataCell was about to file? Today was the day they were planning to do so. And surprise surprise, Visa and MasterCard have suddenly decided to start processing payments from DataCell again.

Late last week, WikiLeaks and DataCell gave me a copy of a legal complaint the group had planned to file Thursday with the European Union Commission, accusing the card companies and their Danish payment processor Teller of abusing their market positions by cutting off WikiLeaks’ financial sources.

Neither Visa nor MasterCard has responded to that threat, and even now a Visa spokesperson merely tells me that the company is “looking into the situation.”

But in the meantime, Visa, MasterCard and American Express payments have all inexplicably opened to DataCell and WikiLeaks through another payment processor, according to DataCell.

“Today we have observed that an alternative payment processor that we have contracted with, has in fact opened the gateway for payments with Visa and Mastercard, and now also for American Express Card payments, which is an option we did not had before,” DataCell wrote in a statement on its website.

We’ll see how long it lasts. But it says something about the due process used here if the mere threat of legal action has opened up the credit processing already.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The WikiLeaks Suit against Visa and MasterCard

You may have heard that WikiLeaks is suing Visa and MasterCard for refusing to process donations to it.

That’s not actually the case. Forbes has gotten a copy of the complaint, and as it lays out, an Icelandic company called DataCell is suing, and it’s suing in Europe, not the US. DataCell is basically a hosting service for WikiLeaks and “businesses, NGOs, humanitarian organisations and others.” It had contracted with two payment services companies, Teller and Korta, on October 18, 2010, with the explicit intention of accepting donations for WL. But on December 7 (not long after the WL cables started coming out), they terminated those services. But that affects both WL and any other clients DataCell might have. And according to an explanation from Teller, no payment services company will contract with DataCell, even if it doesn’t work with WL.

[A]ccording to Teller’s explanations acquiring firms in Europe are not about to be allowed by MC and Visa to open merchant agreements with DataCell, irrespective of whether the company would service Sunshine press/Wikileaks as a payment facilitator or not.

And that’s true even though DataCell has nothing more than business relationship with WL.

There are no ownership or “board or management” connections between DataCell and the Sunshine Press Foundation, the corporate part of Wikileaks. The relationship between DataCell and Sunshine Press/Wikileaks is a pure business relationship.

DataCell also notes that Visa and MasterCard have sustained relationships with other media outlets that have published WL content.

Of note, Teller is also the company that has admitted that WL had broken none of Visa’s rules or Iceland’s laws.

Teller has found no signs indicating that Sunshine Press acts in contravention of Visa rules or national legislation in Iceland. Neither Teller nor Visa licence holders may enter into any agreement with Sunshine Press on the possessing of Visa payments, until this has been approved by Visa Europe. Teller now awaits Visa Europe’s approval.

All of which is the basis for DataCell’s argument that by refusing to let any of its payment services companies in Europe to provide services to DataCell, Visa and MasterCard have violated Europe’s competition laws. It argues that they have used their monopoly position–Visa has 68% of the market and Mastercard has 28%–to prevent DataCell from competing in Europe.

Now, I have no idea how this suit will fare legally.

But I’m interested in what it does rhetorically. Effectively, DataCell has been treated like companies that provide material support for terrorism (without being listed in any list of entities that do so); either through US intervention or via voluntary actions from Visa and MasterCard, they have singled out DataCell to put out of business because of its tie to WL. And it has done so in a market that is none too impressed with US claims about WL’s dangerousness, nor with US bigfooting Europe on data issues.

Effectively, it calls attention to the way that Visa and MasterCard abuse their monopoly position to do the bidding of the US.

We’ll see how that goes over with European consumers.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.