Friday, June 29, 2012
In their annual donation drive to attain $29.5 million for 2012, the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation and its largest project, Wikipedia, will accept donations in four of the 12 'Enemies of the Internet' currencies. Far from bastions of liberty, these are regimes noted for their egregious censorship and systematic repression of Internet users -- Bahrain, China, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam. Of course, it's great to get donations from the suffering and violated netizens of those regimes. But just don't try to donate safely in bitcoin -- it's not accepted.
Here's a list of notable organizations that accept bitcoin donations and Wikimedia is mysteriously absent. Following the disappointing example last year from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Wikimedia specifically excludes donations in bitcoin and explains it with this odd statement:
"Why does the Wikimedia Foundation not currently accept Bitcoin? The Wikimedia Foundation, as a donor-driven organization, has a fiduciary duty to be responsible and prudent with its money. This has been interpreted to mean that we do not accept 'artificial' currencies - that is, those not backed by the full faith and credit of an issuing government. We do, however, strive to provide as many methods of donating as possible and continue to monitor Bitcoin with interest and may revisit this position should circumstances change."It is not a breach of fiduciary duty to accept near-frictionless bitcoin instead of funneling 3% or more to the PayPal-credit card oligarchy. That is just a silly statement because cryptocurrency donations are far more efficient than dealing with payment processors and physical in-kind donations. Donations are distinctly different than regular consumer purchases and it behooves the non-profit organization to provide flexibility to donors and to maximize fundraising efforts.
Also, let's look at some of those issuing governments that provide their full faith and credit as backing for "non-artificial" currencies that Wikimedia Foundation is so pleased to accept. I realize that to a certain extent currencies do not have a morality. However, political Statist currencies that are underwritten by repressive regimes and then further manipulated by the regime's corrupt monetary authority would at least carry some stigma when donated to an entity that depends on Internet freedom.
The decentralized nonpolitical 'real' bitcoin would appear to be the least tainted of the bunch, Jimmy. Bitcoin is immune to the political pressures faced by PayPal, VISA, and Mastercard during the infamous Wikileaks payment blockade. Given that Wikipedia 'blacked out' on January 18, 2012 in ardent opposition to SOPA and PIPA, bitcoin would also appear to be amazingly aligned with objectives for a free and open Internet.
In their Internet Enemies Report 2012, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders details some of the countries (I mean... issuing governments) that pose the gravest threat to basic Internet freedom through their aggressive deployment of online surveillance and content filtering:
Bahrain "offers a perfect example of successful crackdowns with an information blackout achieved through an impressive arsenal of repressive measures: exclusion of the foreign media, harassment of human rights defenders, arrests of bloggers and netizens (one of whom died behind bars), prosecutions and defamation campaigns against free expression activists, disruption of communications."
China perhaps may have the most sophisticated online censorship and surveillance system in the world. "The soaring expansion of the 'Participative Web' and related impact on social and political debates are making it harder each day for Chinese censors to do their job. Harsher controls and crackdowns on netizens and their online tools have been symptomatic of the regime’s increasing concern over potential fallouts from Arab Spring and the Internet and social networks’ role as sounding boards."
Saudi Arabia, with harsh censorship and intolerant of criticism, "did everything possible to dissuade the population from supporting the Arab revolutionary movement. Its rigid opposition to the simmering unrest on the Web caused it to tighten its Internet stranglehold even more to stifle all political and social protests."
Vietnam is aware that they cannot impose complete control over the news and authorities are afraid of an increasingly connected population. "The regime’s attention is focused on the Arab world and its protest movements. Paranoid authorities have stepped up repression and control to stave off any possibility of a regime collapse, favoring surveillance over increased filtering. Bloggers have been the target of a new wave of arrests."
There you have it. The Bahraini dinar, Chinese yuan, Saudi riyal, and Vietnamese dong are all acceptable to Wikimedia as currencies backed by the full faith and credit of their governments! Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are two other declared enemies of the Internet but Wikimedia allows them to select Russian rubles as the donation payment currency.
In the slightly less offensive "countries under surveillance" category, selected entries represent the following donation currencies acceptable to Wikimedia: Egyptian pound, Indian rupee, Kazakhstani tenge, Malaysian ringgit, Russian ruble, South Korean won, Sri Lankan rupee, Thai baht, Turkish lira, and United Arab Emirates dirham.
Shining a spotlight on repressive Internet cultures points out that it may be only a matter of time until freedom of payment to politically incorrect causes is threatened as well. Moreover, it might become extremely dangerous for some of those citizens to be personally attached to a traceable Wikimedia credit card donation. Accepting anonymous bitcoin in addition to political currencies can be a way of declaring that freedom of speech still does matter. Sensibly, the New York City chapter of Wikimedia rejects the party line and is accepting bitcoin donations for its local outreach programs.