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DOJ Crypto Framework Is a ‘Disaster’ for Digital Privacy Rights

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The U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) recent crypto enforcement framework is a threat to digital privacy rights, according to an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

“It was a complete disaster for privacy and anonymity and civil liberties in the cryptocurrency space,” said Marta Belcher, special counsel to the digital rights advocacy group.

The framework, released earlier this month, details the U.S. government’s approach to crimes committed using cryptocurrencies, but also appears to define some broad policy positions on crypto and crypto exchanges more generally. Belcher, who is an attorney with Ropes and Gray and an outside counsel to Protocol Labs, said the framework released earlier this month raises many concerns about privacy rights, pointing to language on peer-to-peer exchanges, mixers/tumblers and “anonymity enhanced cryptocurrencies” (privacy coins). 

In Belcher’s view, there are a number of legal concerns with the crypto enforcement framework as laid out by the DOJ’s Cyber Digital Task Force. Language in the framework would appear to have implications for individuals sending cryptocurrencies to one another, as well as exchangers offering transactions as a service.

The enforcement framework even had a section on mixers and tumblers, noting that entities qualifying as money services businesses are subject to the BSA or “similar international regulations.”

Encryption

The DOJ’s arguments against cryptocurrencies are similar to those made against encryption, another law enforcement boogeyman. The DOJ, alongside other members of the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance plus India and Japan published a statement calling for backdoor access to encrypted messaging services and other systems last weekend. 

The statement reflects law enforcement agencies’ “fundamental discomfort” with any technology that could allow for private interactions, said Jake Chervinsky, general counsel at Compound Finance. 

The enforcement framework is “making exactly the same argument you’ve seen being made for decades about encryption,” Belcher told CoinDesk. “These are the exact same arguments that are against encryption and they’re coming from the exact same place as the fight against encryption.”

Read more: Startup Aleo Wants to Help You Use the Internet Without Sacrificing Data Privacy

The intelligence agencies claim backdoors in encrypted protocols and systems would make it easier to identify and prosecute crimes committed using privacy-protecting tools (including cryptocurrencies).

This statement ignores the technical realities of building strong encryption, he noted.

“The Five Eyes [coalition continues] to overlook a few basic points about encryption: first, that strong encryption itself enhances public safety and prevents crime by protecting people and their data; second, that it’s impossible to build backdoors into encrypted systems without creating extraordinary new cybersecurity risks; and third, that cryptography tools are increasingly open-source and can’t be easily cabined or controlled at their request,” he said.

Many cryptocurrency companies and developers, for example, wouldn’t be able to comply with the backdoor requests because of this open sourcing, he said.

P2P exchangers

According to the DOJ’s crypto framework, a P2P exchanger is considered a money services business, which means it is required to abide by recordkeeping and reporting requirements as defined by the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and other regulations if they buy or sell convertible virtual currencies. 

The framework defines individual exchangers as individuals who provide crypto transaction services to others, but Belcher believes it could be used to apply to two individuals who just transact between each other – not just individuals acting as service providers.

“Individual exchangers – as well as platforms and websites – that fail to collect and maintain customer or transactional data or maintain an effective AML/CFT program may be subject to civil and criminal penalties,” the framework said, referring to anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism regulations.

The distinction is between “software providers” and “service providers,” Chervinsky said. Software providers, which compose a large part of the crypto industry, deploy decentralized protocols and publish open-source projects that the writers cannot control or modify. Service providers, on the other hand, offer “permissioned, proprietary platforms” that the operators can control. 

Read more: The US Crypto Enforcement Framework Is a Warning to International Exchanges

In Belcher’s view, the crypto framework puts both individuals who write code for peer-to-peer transactions as well as those who use this code at risk for enforcement actions. 

“There’s liability on people using these exchanges in order to exchange cryptocurrencies anonymously with others,” she said. “To say I can’t send you cryptocurrency using a script, you and I can’t transact with each other directly in a peer-to-peer way without that data being collected somewhere by a third party is a complete affront to privacy and civil liberty.”

Individuals can easily conduct similar transactions using cash, she said. “No one questions that I can hand you money without there needing to be a written record of that.”

Privacy protections

The framework also took aim at privacy coins and other tools to obfuscate transactions, like mixers and tumblers. Belcher said it is wrong to focus on whether privacy coins can be compliant with the BSA and other laws.

Cryptocurrencies could potentially transfer the privacy protections that come from cash transactions and shift them online, she said.

“The thing that is so important for me is that you can transact anonymously and you can take the protections of cash and you can transfer that to the online world,” she said. 

“The idea that merely by exercising your right to transact anonymously is indicative of you committing a crime is wrong in my view.”

Read more: FinCEN: Stablecoin Issuers Are Money Transmitters, No Matter What

The U.S. government followed the framework with its first enforcement action against a bitcoin mixer just 11 days later, when the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) fined Larry Dean Harmon, the alleged operator of a mixer, $60 million for his operations. 

However, that particular case doesn’t have major implications for mixing software more generally, said Carlton Fields attorney Andrew Hinkes on Twitter. 

“The facts here are egregious and ghastly. A service provider that profits from software that provides money transmission services must comply, must keep records, and must report. Plain as day, and should be obvious by now,” he wrote, pointing to various facts in the case, including the operator’s boasting of transaction privacy for customers, transactions conducted for Iran-affiliated accounts and payments facilitated for at least one child exploitation site. 

Chervinsky agreed, noting that Harmon was treated like a service provider, not a software provider.

Financial censorship

It’s possible the DOJ’s framework can help contribute to financial censorship, an ongoing issue within the U.S., Belcher said.

Traditional payments giants surveil and censor a number of transactions, including innocuous ones that might upset certain sensibilities. 

“There are all these examples of a kinky bookstore or a nonprofit that supports LGBT fiction getting their accounts shut down by Visa and Mastercard, and also famously things like WikiLeaks that then turn to cryptocurrency when they can’t be served by the financial intermediaries that are censoring that,” she said.

These transactions aren’t illegal, Belcher noted.

Read more: The Web Wasn’t Built for Privacy, but It Could Be

A cashless society is effectively a surveillance society in this respect, she said.

Actual crimes committed using cryptocurrencies should be prosecuted, and it’s a benefit to the crypto community when they are, she said. 

The DOJ report included dozens of examples of crimes that were committed using or at some point touching on cryptocurrencies, including several recent high-profile cases. 

However, blaming cryptocurrencies for their use in crimes does not make sense, she said.

“I think they’re missing that cash has always been used to facilitate illegal activity,” she said. “We don’t blame Ford when one of its cars is used as a getaway vehicle in a bank robbery.”





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CME’s Micro Bitcoin Futures Go Live for Trading

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The CME micro Bitcoin futures allows retail players and individual crypto investors to deal with small-sized contracts thereby ushering more market liquidity while giving the smaller players equal exposure to a regulated environment.

On Monday, May 3, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) announced the launch of the Micro Bitcoin Futures in a move aimed at expanding its crypto derivative products. Over the last year, Bitcoin has gained significant price appreciation and momentum.

Thus, the demand for Bitcoin derivative products has also surged. While CME was indeed the first to launch the Bitcoin Futures, it was largely available only to institutional players. The cash-settled CME Bitcoin futures is one of the most popular Bitcoin derivative products.

However, to give retail investors and small players access to BTC derivatives, CME has now launched the micro BTC futures. The CME micro Bitcoin Futures represent one-tenth the size of one Bitcoin. Tim McCourt, CME Group Global Head of Equity Index and Alternative Investment Products said:

“We are pleased to introduce this new contract at a time when we continue to see consistent growth of liquidity and participation in our crypto futures and options. At one-tenth the size of one bitcoin, Micro Bitcoin futures will provide an efficient, cost-effective way for a broad array of market participants – from institutions to sophisticated, active traders – to fine-tune their bitcoin exposure and enhance their trading strategies, all while retaining the benefits of CME Group’s standard Bitcoin futures.”

Micro Bitcoin Futures: The Power of Small-Sized Contracts

Bitcoin’s popularity is at its peak in the current times. Thus, such small-sized contracts will allow participation from sophisticated individual clients in the market. Besides, it also addresses one of the major issues associated with Bitcoin i.e. the high cost of owning an asset and the desire to engage in a regulated environment.

With the small-sized contracts, the options for CME’s micro Bitcoin futures will also attract retail buying. Daniel Ryba, Executive Director of futures at E*TRADE Financial said:

“Offering Micro Bitcoin futures allows us to provide our customers with even more choice and precision in how they trade Bitcoin futures. The smaller contract size enables traders of all sizes – from institutions to active retail traders – to get exposure to bitcoin prices, or hedge their spot bitcoin positions. We are excited to support this product.”

As said earlier, the micro futures offers more granular exposure on BTC futures. Similar to the larger derivative product, the CME micro BTC futures is also cash-settled.

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Bhushan is a FinTech enthusiast and holds a good flair in understanding financial markets. His interest in economics and finance draw his attention towards the new emerging Blockchain Technology and Cryptocurrency markets. He is continuously in a learning process and keeps himself motivated by sharing his acquired knowledge. In free time he reads thriller fictions novels and sometimes explore his culinary skills.



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Ethereum (ETH) New All-Time High of $3194 Makes Co-Founder Vitalik Buterin Billionaire

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ETH price rally has helped its market dominance surge past 16% making it formidable crypto in the market. Analysts expect ETH price to surge to $10K by the end of 2021.

Simply stunning is an understatement for the Ethereum performance in recent time. The world’s second-largest cryptocurrency ETH has been on an indomitable rally and today’s all-time high of $3194 makes its co-founder Vitalik Buterin the youngest crypto billionaire in the market.

The public ETH address of Vitalik Buterin which he disclosed in 2018 has hit over $1 billion in balance with Ethereum’s meteoric rally. As per the data by Etherscan, this VB address holds 333,500 ETH coins. Thus, the balance as of the current price ETH shows $1.043 billion.

Growing ETH Dominance that Boosts Wealth of Buterin

Ethereum (ETH) has largely dominated the crypto market in recent times while Bitcoin (BTC) seems under consolidation. The ETH year-to-date returns stand at a massive 300% as of the current price. Meaning, Ethereum (ETH) has gained 4x since the beginning of the year 2021. On the other hand, BTC price has gained 2x or 100%. Clearly, Ethereum outclasses Bitcoin with a 3:1 margin.

With the recent price rally, Ethereum has hit fresh milestones on multiple fronts. For e.g. Ethereum has outgrown some of the biggest traditional financial institutions and companies. After toppling PayPal last week in market size, ETH has outgrown giants like Disney and Bank of America today. As per the data on Infinite Market Cap, Ethereum (ETH) is the 27 most valuable global asset currently. The next target for Ethereum would be taking on payments giant MasterCard.

Ethereum Gains in Crypto Market Domination

With its price rally this year, Ethereum has extended its crypto market domination. At its current price, ETH dominates more than 16% of the overall crypto market cap. On the other hand, Bitcoin (BTC) is seeing a stop in its market domination.

Over the last month, the BTC market domination has dropped more than 10% and is currently under 47%. Let’s take some of the positive on-chain developments driving the ETH price rally.

  • In April, the ETH gas fee dropped below $10 for the first time in three months. This drop gave investors the flexibility to move their coins without paying too many fees.
  • In April 2021, the Ethereum blockchain network registered a massive 41.7 million transactions. Thanks to the outbreak in DeFi and NFT activity on the blockchain.
  • The ETH supply at exchanges was on a drop. This supply-demand gap helped to drive the price higher further.
  • The CME Ether Future open interest jumped from $68 million on March 1 to $373 million by the end of April. The aggregate open interest for ETH futures across all exchanges has crossed $8.3 billion.
  • In April 2021, the Ethereum-based decentralized exchanges facilitated more than $14.5 billion in trading volumes.

Many analysts predict that the ETH rally won’t stop anytime soon and ETH will hit $10K by the end of 2021.

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Bhushan is a FinTech enthusiast and holds a good flair in understanding financial markets. His interest in economics and finance draw his attention towards the new emerging Blockchain Technology and Cryptocurrency markets. He is continuously in a learning process and keeps himself motivated by sharing his acquired knowledge. In free time he reads thriller fictions novels and sometimes explore his culinary skills.



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TWTR Shares Decline 13% after Twitter Unveils Q1 2021 Earnings Results

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As the report highlighted, Twitter’s total revenue in Q1 was up 28% ($808 million) year-over-year to $1.04 billion.

Social network company Twitter Inc (NYSE: TWTR) declined 13% in its shares in the pre-market trading session following news on lower-than-expected user growth in its Q1 earnings report and lower guidance for the coming quarter. Twitter released its 2021 Q1 financial statement on the 29th of April.

TWTR Shares Down in Reaction to Report on Low User Growth

Twitter shares are down over 13% to $56.60 in the premarket, following the Q1 earnings report. Except for a 2.88% loss recorded in the last five days, Twitter has been growing in the last 12 months. The company has surged 133.80% over the past year and added 20.20% since the year began. Also, TWTR pumped 28.81% in the last three months and another 1.97% over the past month.

At press time, Twitter stands at a market valuation of $51.99 billion.

According to the earnings results, Twitter’s number of monetizable daily active users (mDAUs) was 199 million. The total mDAUs grew 7 million from what was recorded in 2020 Q4 but did not meet analysts’ expectation of 200 million. The social network company added that its user base added 20% year-on-year.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey commented on the increased number of users. He said:

“People turn to Twitter to see and talk about what’s happening, and we are helping them find their interests more quickly while making it easier to follow and participate in conversations.”

The CEO added that the ongoing product improvements and global conversation around current events fueled the spike in mDAUs.

Twitter Reports Q1 Earnings

As the report highlighted, Twitter’s total revenue was up 28% ($808 million) year-over-year to $1.04 billion. Also, the revenue is higher than Wall Street’s estimate of $1.03 billion. According to the company’s chief financial officer Ned Segal, the growth signifies “accelerating year-over-year growth in MAP revenue and brand advertising that improved throughout the quarter.”

Under the total revenue, advertising revenue pumped 32% or 30% in constant currency to total $899 million. The summed up revenue consists of total ad engagement and cost per engagement gains. Total ad engagement gained 11% year-on-year, while cost per engagement (CPE) added 19% year-over-year.

Additionally, data licensing and other revenue stood at $137 million, a 9% advance over the previous year. Also, US revenue increased 19% year-over-year to $556 million. International revenue also surged 41% to $480 million.

During the same quarter, Twitter saw adjusted earnings per share of 16 cents. The adjusted earnings topped 2 cents over an earlier forecast of 14 cents. Furthermore, the company saw a profit of $68 million, a contrast to the $8.4 million law posted in the previous year.

In addition, Twitter guided in the report that its expectation for revenue in the coming quarter is between $980 million and $1.08 billion. However, Refinitiv said that analysts were executing guidance of $1.06 billion on average.

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Ibukun is a crypto/finance writer interested in passing relevant information, using non-complex words to reach all kinds of audience. Apart from writing, she likes to see movies, cook, and explore restaurants in the city of Lagos, where she resides.



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