Bitcoiners rally to enlighten Washington

Now may be the perfect moment for outreach, some say
  • (IDG News Service)
  • — 19 May, 2013 04:19

Washington's biggest problem when it comes to Bitcoin may just be that policymakers on the Hill don't know enough about it, yet.

That was the general consensus of a panel of legal experts speaking Saturday at a Silicon Valley conference devoted to the nascent digital currency.

"Congress is the wild card here," said Jerry Brito , director of technology policy at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, who liaisons with Washington on technology issues. But, "I'm very optimistic about the regulatory climate for Bitcoin ... because regulators and folks on the Hill simply don't understand it."

Use of Bitcoin, a digital currency managed and traded over a peer-to-peer computer network, is growing. It is designed to be a decentralized form of payment not regulated by any financial institution or government body, but still some users worry whether the government might be getting involved, and if so, how.

"They're trying to fit it into existing buckets, and Bitcoin is very confusing to them. But the potential is there to understand it, to allow it to flourish," Brito added.

Others agreed. "I've gone to D.C. and lobbied and had real mixed feelings about how effective it is," said Rainey Reitman , who leads the Electronic Frontier Foundation's activism team. "Most legislators don't understand it. They don't have the technology teams available to them."

Bitcoin's "flourishing" was a major theme at the conference. More than 50 sessions were held over the course of the three-day event, sporting forward-looking titles such as "Bitcoin in the Future," "History and Prospects for Alternative Currencies," and even "The Future of Panhandling."

The panelists' remarks came just days after Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, the largest Bitcoin exchange online, was slammed with a seizure order by the Department of Homeland Security, for allegedly failing to comply with U.S. financial regulations.

But legislators' ignorance provides an opportunity for education, panelists said. "Direct action is important," said Rob Bananagale , CEO and co-founder at Gliph,which makes a messaging app that lets users send Bitcoin payments.

"What's missing right now in D.C. is education," said Brito. His center later this month is holding a briefing with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Bitcoin.

To keep the technology safe from political tampering, "we need to have these conversations with lawmakers," said EFF's Reitman.

The Bitcoin Foundation, which provides the bulk of the core backend development for the currency, is already active on this front, and has plans to hire a Washington lawyer this year who can engage with politicians and try to facilitate a regulatory environment in which the currency can thrive.

There is some legislation on the table that could have an impact on Bitcoin in the months and years ahead, panelists said.

One law, for instance, is the outdated Electronic Communications and Privacy Act, which in a new form introduced by Senators Patrick Leahy and Mike Lee seeks to ensure a warrant protection for all private online messages. The law was originally passed in 1986 to allow the Department of Justice to access private communications with only a subpoena. What happens with that law could have an effect on services like Gliph.

Congressional action notwithstanding, another issue deals with financial censorship, when online payment services shut down users' accounts due to political or controversial speech made by the account holder.

As Bitcoin becomes more organized, "where are the points of potential censorship?" Reitman said. "Where do we put in protections now to ensure one weak link does not affect the rest of the Bitcoin community?"

Using the Mt. Gox case as an example, some question whether technology companies should work harder to prepare for, or even shield themselves from, government data requests, such as by crafting more robust user privacy policies or encrypting their user data more strongly.

"This idea to design a system that's 'unsubpoen-able,' I think that's a hot legal question," said Joseph Cutler , an attorney with Perkins Coie.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Zach Miners

IDG News Service
Topics: Internet-based applications and services, e-commerce, consumer electronics, Gliph, legal, internet, Bitcoin
Comments are now closed.

Latest News Articles

Most Popular Articles

Follow Us

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Resources

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Compare & Save

Deals powered by WhistleOut
Use WhistleOut's technology to compare:
Mobile phone plans & deals
Mobile phone models
Mobile phone carriers
Broadband plans & deals
Broadband providers
Deals powered by WhistleOut
WhistleOut

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?