MasterCard and Visa have supported a move to censor advertisements in the adult section of classified ad website Backpage.com.
The credit card companies will now longer allow their card to be used for payment for such adverts.
The move comes after a sheriff in Cook County, Illinois named Thomas Dart requested that both credit companies sever ties with the site. He cites for reasons of supposed trafficking but no doubt the basis is a moral judgement against adult
Update: Censored by MasterCard even when the service is legal
Thosusands of Australian sex workers say their legitimate business is being brought to a grinding halt by censorship by credit card companies instigated by a US county sherriff.
Mastercard has announced it was implementing a worldwide ban on customers placing adult ads on Backpage.com, an online classified advertising marketplace used widely by sex workers to promote their services.
The site has long come under fire from moralist in the US, where sex work is illegal in most states, for promoting prostitution. But the censorship still applies even where legal.
The Scarlet Alliance, which speaks on behalf of Australian sex workers, said Backpage.com was the primary source of clientele for many local sex workers.
Brisbane sex worker Nikki Cox said she was angry and upset about Mastercard's decision. She said:
We have fought long and hard in this country to have the rights that we do.
For a sheriff in the USA to come along and appeal to have credit card companies remove the option of using our card to pay for advertising services is a badly thought out decision on his behalf.
This is fine for the USA where sex work is illegal in 49 states but it should not have a rollover effect in Australia.
Scarlet Alliance CEO Janelle Fawkes went one step further, accusing Mastercard of discrimination.
We have anti-discrimination protection for sex workers in some parts of Australia, and much of that legislation is framed around treating sex workers differently and disadvantaging them.
This is very specifically singling out and discriminating against sex workers, which is absolutely unacceptable.
Sex workers are part of the community and are earning a legitimate income like everyone else, and they have the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else.
The online classified web site Backpage.com, long used by sex workers as a low-cost means of advertising their services and screening clients, has announced that it is allowing users to post ads for free to the adult services section of its
Backpage has been sending e-mails to users of the adult services section of the site informing them that they could use free promo code FREESPEECH until their payment situation was resolved to post ads.
Advertisers can also still use bitcoin to pay for ads, and the company recently began allowing users to pay for credits that could be used to post ads. The credits can be purchased by money order, check or cash mailed to a P.O. Box in
in the legal case Backpage.com v. Dart a unanimous panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a lively opinion ordered Thomas Dart, the sheriff of Cook County, Illinois, to end his campaign of suffocation against the small ads
website and stop violating its First Amendment rights.
The court of appeals rejected Sheriff Dart's contention that he was merely expressing his personal distaste for Backpage and not using his position as a government official to coerce Visa and MasterCard into discontinuing business with the
website. Rather, the court of appeals held that Sheriff Dart's actions amounted to an unconstitutional prior restraint on Backpage's speech.
EFF made a submission to the court arguing that government officials such as Sheriff Dart may not use their positions of authority to coerce companies with express or implied threats of legal liability into taking actions that censor
speech--whether online or offline.
The Seventh Circuit agreed. Overruling the district court that had denied Backpage's request for a preliminary injunction, the court of appeals issued the following order:
Sheriff Dart, his office, and all employees, agents, or others who are acting or have acted for or on behalf of him, shall take no actions, formal or informal, to coerce or threaten credit card companies, processors, financial institutions, or
other third parties with sanctions intended to ban credit card or other financial services from being provided to Backpage.com.
While Sheriff Dart is rightly concerned about sex trafficking, the court of appeals noted that no one is claiming that there is no constitutionally protected speech in the ads on Backpage's website. (emphasis in original) Yet Visa and
MasterCard bowed to pressure from Sheriff Dart and others by refusing to process transactions in which their credit cards are used to purchase any ads on Backpage, even those that advertise indisputably legal activities. (emphasis in
Sheriff Dart had written letters intimating that the credit card companies could be prosecuted for processing payments made by purchasers of the ads on Backpage that promote unlawful sexual activity, such as prostitution. The court of
appeals noted that It was within days of receiving the letter that the credit card companies broke with Backpage. The causality is obvious. Thus the court held that Sheriff Dart's actions constituted a prior restraint in violation of the
The Seventh Circuit equated Sheriff Dart's campaign of depriving the company of ad revenues by scaring off its payments-service providers rather than going after Backpage directly through litigation with killing a person by cutting off
his oxygen supply rather than by shooting him.
The Seventh Circuit made clear that Sheriff Dart, in his official capacity, does have freedom of government speech. However, the court of appeals stressed that such freedom has limits. He or any other government official or entity is
not permitted to employ threats to squelch the free speech of private citizens.