Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Proactive engagement

One of Bitcoin's major challenges is the legal uncertainty surrounding it.

It is really no different from other new Internet technologies (should Skype be regulated like a phone company? Does google's deep-linking violate copyright? ... to give two examples from a few years ago...), but because it is money there are a lot more laws and regulations that may or may not apply.

It'd be easy to ignore that and just damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead with the technology. And given the nature of geeks on the Internet, that is what is going to happen anyway... but I decided it wouldn't hurt to try to be proactive and start a conversation with my representatives in Washington, DC about the Bitcoin Project.

So I met briefly with staffers from Rep. Olver and Sen. Brown's offices yesterday. I gave a very brief overview of bitcoin, mentioned Senator Schumer's "eradicate Silk Road" press conference, and stressed that Bitcoin is meant to be a stable, secure, international currency for the Internet, NOT a currency for criminals.

I also mentioned that the legal uncertainty is a barrier to innovation, and asked for advice on what, if anything, could be done about that. There is no good answer-- government moves really slowly, and they're wedging newfangled Internet ideas into legal structures that were created when telephone were the latest and greatest technology.

However, the house of representatives staffer I talked with did suggest that encouraging you-all to introduce yourselves to your congressperson's staff is a good idea. If they know that interesting, job-creating bitcoin businesses are happening in their districts and they've met the person making it happen, then they're much more likely to support bitcoin-friendly legislation.

So, if you're an upstanding, law-abiding, clear-thinking citizen doing interesting things with Bitcoin, I encourage you to take a little time and introduce yourself to your representative's staff. I wouldn't bother talking to the representative-- they're probably too old to really understand bitcoin ("Tubes! Money through the tubes I say!"). Talk to a 20-something staffer who grew up with the Internet and is likely to be a lot more sympathetic to the idea of a peer-to-peer Internet money.

(cross-posted from the Bitcoin Forums)


ripper234 said...

Way to go. With the many ultra radical posts about Bitcoin, it's nice to hear about steps being taken to officially legalize it, or at least start a dialog.

It's just a small start, of course, but it's something.

Anonymous said...

Interesting Gavin, thanks, but watching how the government responds to most new and potentially disruptive technologies, I don't have much faith in them supporting the idea in the long run.

Also ripper, I think you mean recognize, not legalize. It's completely wrong to believe we need permission from the legal system to do anything, or that by default anything not recognized is illegal.

ripper234 said...

@Anon - it's not that we need permission, it's that it would help attract the masses if Bitcoin's legal status was crystal clear (and approved).

It would also help giving a green light to large organizations to adopt Bitcoin.

Anonymous said...

Gavin, I will gladly reach out to my elected reps. Can you point me to your favorite block of text I can use and point elected officials to?

Anonymous said...

Gavin, are we not going to hear anything about your 15 minutes of fame? I would say that a picture in the Times uses up all of it.

How did this come about?

An inquiring blog audience wants to know.

Beryl Ostting said...

I agree, engagement is your best way forward if you don't expect government to treat BitCoin as a hostile development. The government has a lot of legitimate interests, by the way, in taxation and upholding drug laws. We may not all agree with those laws, but it's what the our representative democracy has come up with.
It would be hard for the government to kill BitCoin, but certainly not hard for them to make life difficult for people who own it or try to interface with government-backed currencies in any way.
(Full disclosure: I think the BitCoin project as it has developed is going to do more harm than good in the short run, so I'm a critic. But that doesn't mean I want things to work out as well as they can under the circumstances. So good luck!)

Anonymous said...

And I thought Gavin was a renaissance man.

Bitcoin, Bitcoin, Bitcoin: zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Anonymous said...

Obviously cracking into someone's computer and stealing their keys, or breaking into their house and lifting their paper wallet is illegal under current legislation. But it's the cracking or breaking and entering that's illegal.

If you happen to find someone's bitcoin wallet key or observe it over their shoulder, and transfer the coins to a different address, have you actually committed theft?

Can you actually claim to "own" bitcoins, or is it just that you have exclusive access to them as long as you manage to keep the key secret? A bit like being the only one who knows the location of a fruit tree in the forest.