PayPal has been in the news recently, and the news is grim for those who value free speech. In recent weeks, PayPal has been cancelling the accounts of those it accuses of having violated its “Acceptable Use Policy.”

Consider some of those who have said they have been de-PayPal’d:

There are many others who have been targeted; this list is not exhaustive list, only illustrative. When PayPal de-platforms you, this is the message you will receive: “We are unable to continue offering our services. Thank you for using PayPal as your payment partner. Unfortunately, we are unable to continue offering our services to you at this time due to the nature of your business and/or activity in your account and the risk it poses to PayPal. This decision can’t be overturned ... Money in your PayPal account will be held for 180 days. After 180 days, we’ll email you information on how to withdraw your money.”

Only a few days ago, it became known that under PayPal’s new terms of service, to be introduced in early November, the company would seize up to $2,500 per offense — debited directly from a user’s account — if an account holder was deemed by PayPal to be promoting “misinformation” or present risks to others’ “wellbeing.” What constitutes misinformation would be at the “sole discretion” of the company. 

Fortunately, the company pulled a swift u-turn after its former president, David Marcus, tweeted, “It’s hard for me to openly criticize a company I used to love and gave so much to, But @PayPal’s new AUP goes against everything I believe in. A private company now gets to decide to take your money if you say something they disagree with. Insanity.”

While PayPal now says it has decided not to fine its users for misinformation, it is unclear whether that also applies to those of its account holders it deems to have uttered “hate speech” against “protected groups.”  Only time will tell.  In a tentatively hopeful sign, PayPal has re-platformed Toby Wright of the Free Speech Union in the U.K., after an outcry by MPs there. But the others listed remain banned as I write.

The threat to free speech from the cancellation of financial services to dissident voices is clear. It’s not just PayPal and its subsidiary Venmo which are involved, but also large credit card companies, banks and services such as GoFundMe. I have argued before that assurance that one’s financial existence cannot be erased for wrongthink is essential for a functioning democracy.  As Toby Young commented, “Withdrawing financial services from dissidents and non-conformists and those who dare to defend them is the new frontline in the ongoing war against free speech.”

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It is clearly time for legislative action. While some tech companies have touted the Santa Clara Principles as the remedy, these principles do not go far enough. While the principles do aim to ensure transparency and also right of appeal for those who are “cancelled,” these issues are secondary to the right to banking services by individuals exercising their right to free speech.

I urge whichever party controls Congress after the November elections to craft legislation that assures American citizens of the right to financial services without qualification. What views an American citizen holds are irrelevant to the necessity of using the financial system to secure food and housing to sustain life. This is a foundational human rights issue for our times.

The proposed Fair Access to Banking Act is a good start, but in light of PayPal’s antics, this legislation should be strengthened and prioritized. In the United States, your life should not be held hostage by financial organizations on the basis of your political viewpoints, period.

Valerie M. Hudson is a university distinguished professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and a Deseret News contributor. Her views are her own. 

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