Wikileaks Claims Coinbase Has Shut Down Its Online Store’s Bitcoin Account
Wikileaks’ official online merchandise store claims that its account with Coinbase has been suspended by the cryptocurrency exchange. Wikileaks, a leaked documents depository that was central to a long string of international scandals even before the 2016 presidential election, is now calling for a boycott of Coinbase.
The announcement, which has not been confirmed by Coinbase, has roiled the Bitcoin community, highlighting certain inevitable tensions as cryptocurrency becomes increasingly mainstream. In a note posted to Twitter which the Wikileaks Shop claims to have received from Coinbase, the exchange appears to cite U.S. government financial regulations as one reason for the suspension. There’s no indication, though, specifically how Wikileaks allegedly violated those rules.
Bitcoin, of course, has gained popularity in part because it can be used to circumvent existing financial regulations and systems, including banks. In fact, as veteran cryptocurrency commentator Andreas Antonopoulos pointed out on Twitter, many politically engaged users were first attracted to Bitcoin as a way to donate to WikiLeaks after it was cut off by more traditional financial services in 2010.
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Coinbase has attracted users to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies by making them easier to buy and use, but its status as a regulated U.S. business means it must comply with U.S. financial regulations. A substantial portion of longtime Bitcoin advocates remain skeptical of Coinbase and other intermediaries because of that exposure, and because many act as custodians of customers’ cryptocurrency, arguably increasing systemic risk in the event of their failure.
Suspension by Coinbase will not prevent Wikileaks from accepting payments or donations via Bitcoin, but the organization may have to devote more resources to handling its accounts directly, and will likely find it much more challenging to convert Bitcoin to currency such as dollars.
In response, Wikileaks is calling for a “global blockade” of Coinbase this week.
Coinbase declined to comment on specific accounts, citing user privacy concerns.
Update 4/24/18: This article has been updated with Coinbase’s response to Fortune’s inquiry.