Like email or the web, Bitcoin is an open Internet protocol. This means that anyone can plug into the network and easily transact with anyone else in the world. This creates new opportunities for people who previously didn’t have access to financial markets, and it also opens up a new world of beneficial permissionless innovation. It also means, however, that criminals can use the open network for illicit purposes–just as criminals use email today.
Law enforcement will pursue criminals no matter what technology they’re using, and how law enforcement does this can affect an open technology. As a result, it’s in everyone’s interest–law enforcement, industry, and those of us who want to keep the technology free and open–to make sure that law enforcement understands how the technology works, what can and can’t be done with it, and what are the opportunities and limits it presents for their investigations. To that end, today we announced the formation of the Blockchain Alliance, a forum for law enforcement and regulators to ask questions of each other and to share information, and for law enforcement and regulators to get technical assistance from industry on understanding the blockchain.
Jason Weinstein, a former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in charge of cybercrime investigations at the Department of Justice and a member of the advisory boards of Coin Center, BitFury, and the Chamber of Digital Commerce, will serve as Director of the Blockchain Alliance. Industry participants include Coin Center, the Chamber of Digital Commerce, MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative, BitFinex, BitFury, BitGo, Bitnet, BitPay, BitStamp, Blockchain, Bloq, Circle, CoinBase, CoinX, ItBit, Kraken, Noble Markets, and Xapo.
The Blockchain Alliance is engaged with the Department of Justice, including the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Secret Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and we plan to engage with other U.S. and foreign agencies as well.
The Alliance will be a resource for law enforcement, where they can feel comfortable asking technical questions to some of the brightest minds in this space. It’s also a resource for the blockchain community to understand the interests and concerns of law enforcement and regulators about the blockchain and its applications. Some of this is happening now on an ad hoc basis, but the Blockchain Alliance will be a one-stop resource and a known forum for discussion.
To be clear: The Blockchain Alliance is not a backdoor for the government to get information about companies or their customers. The protection of privacy and civil liberties is paramount. The discussions between industry and government through the Blockchain Alliance will not be about particular investigations or targets. Rather, they will be higher-level discussions about typologies, trends, and technical issues. The participating companies would not share information about their customers/users except as required by law.
It’s important to correct the misperception of bitcoin as the “currency of criminals.” This misperception can have very real consequences – it can influence how law enforcement, regulators, and lawmakers approach Bitcoin and could undermine the growth of Bitcoin and the blockchain. Educating law enforcement and regulators directly about this technology will reduce their fear or anxiety about it, and make them less likely to overreact to it. It will also be helpful for industry to hear about what law enforcement is worried about in terms of the use of the technology for illegal purposes. There is a lot of crime on the Internet, but no one thinks of the Internet as the “network of criminals.” For the blockchain to thrive as the Internet has, the industry needs to work together to change perceptions, and we think this new initiative is a great step in that direction.
- Wall Street Journal
- Washington Post
- Associated Press
- American Banker
- Financial Times
- Bitcoin Magazine
(Image credit: /u/Chinxcore)