For many years, Palestinian rights defenders have championed the cause of Palestinians in the occupied territories, who are denied access to PayPal, while Israeli settlers have full access to PayPal products. A recent campaign, led by Palestinian digital rights group 7amleh, calls on PayPal to adhere to its own code of business conduct and ethics, by halting its discrimination against residents and citizens of Palestine. 7amleh has also published a detailed report on PayPal’s actions in Palestine.
This is not the first time PayPal has denied service to a vulnerable group; the company routinely cuts off payments to those engaged in sex work or the sale of sexually explicit content, and last year, PayPal division Venmo was sued for blocking payments associated with Islam or Arab nationalities or ethnicities.
Just four months ago, EFF and 21 other rights groups wrote to PayPal, taking the company to task for censoring legal, legitimate transactions, and calling on both PayPal and Venmo to provide more transparency and accountability on account freezes and closures. Our coalition's demands included a call for regular transparency reports, meaningful notice to users, and a timely and meaningful appeals process. These recommendations align with the Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation, developed by free expression advocates and scholars to help companies protect human rights when moderating user-generated content and accounts.
It is unclear why PayPal chose to deny service to Palestinians, but they're not unique. Many American companies have taken an overly broad interpretation of anti-terrorism statutes and sanctions, denying service to entire groups or geographic areas—rather than narrowly targeting those parties whom they are legally obligated to block. This practice is deeply troubling, causing serious harm to those who rely on digital services for their basic needs.
PayPal is among the most global of payment processors, and for many it is a lifesaver, allowing people to sidestep local banks' extortionate overseas transfer fees and outright prohibitions. PayPal is how many around the world purchase goods and services from abroad, pay freelancers, or send money to family. By denying access to Palestinians, PayPal makes it hard or even impossible to engage in the normal commerce of everyday life.
We call on PayPal to explain their decision to deny services to Palestinians. And we renew our call—and that of our co-signers—for PayPal to review its practices to implement the Santa Clara Principles and permit lawful transactions on its platform, halting its discrimination against marginalized groups.