In a series of tweets on December 17, 2017, the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, alleged the United States government of breaching citizens’ First Amendment rights. He also accused the government of politically-induced financial censorship after it began obstructing US-based individuals from donating to the organization. Thus, in light of these events, he urged WikiLeaks donors to facilitate payments through cryptocurrencies instead, something that the government has no power over.
Bypassing Government Blockades
Assange’s tweets were about the financial blockade that the US government has imposed on WikiLeaks. The first barrier was put in place in 2010 when PayPal severed all ties with the establishment citing illegal activity. At the time, Wau Holland collected over $1.2 million in donations before being blindsided by all major payment processors that could be influenced by the US government, including Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal.
Ever since then, the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF) has helped process donations for the Assange’s whistleblowing website. However, following suspected government backlash in response to WikiLeaks’ Vault7 release, the FPF has announced that it would no longer offer its tax deductible gateway to the organization in January. This vacuum of payment processors has driven Julian Assange to promote cryptocurrency-based transactions for the website.
The WikiLeaks Foundation first considered using bitcoin to facilitate donations in late 2010, a few days after the first financial blockade in November of that year. Satoshi Nakamoto, the anonymous individual who invented the bitcoin protocol, was very openly against the idea even though most cryptocurrency enthusiasts believed that WikiLeaks’ adoption would bring mainstream attention to bitcoin. On a public forum, Nakamoto emphasized the need for bitcoin to grow organically and strengthen with time before stepping into the spotlight.
Nakamoto also famously stated that the media and international attention that WikiLeaks would bring to bitcoin could destroy the cryptocurrency, which was still in its early stages having been released a year prior. Julian Assange eventually agreed with this sentiment and allowed bitcoin to further mature, before finally accepting it as a payment method in 2011.
The adoption of bitcoin by WikiLeaks was indeed a transformative process for the digital currency ecosystem. It proved the utility of a decentralized currency that could neither be fully controlled nor suppressed by any government. Moreover, it solidified bitcoin’s position as a worthy competitor to traditional financial instruments.
Today, many organizations both, nonprofit and otherwise, accept donations in bitcoin, especially those that are in a similar predicament in which WikiLeaks found itself. In 2013, around the time when bitcoin first peaked at $1,000, the infamous piracy website “The Pirate Bay” began accepting bitcoin donations. Archive is another notable organization that takes donations in cryptocurrencies.
In October 2017, when bitcoin was trading just shy of $6,000, Julian Assange derided the US government’s past attempts to stall donations for the platform, stating that WikiLeaks’ bitcoin investment since 2010 had appreciated over 50,000 percent. If adjusted for bitcoin’s market price today, that percentage would be significantly higher.