You Can't Be Tough On Big Tech While Killing Off Alternatives To It
from the decentralized-tech-can-help dept
The Biden administration has been talking a big game about being “tough on Big Tech” and Silicon Valley monopolies. But right now they’re quietly defending a provision in the must-pass Infrastructure Bill that targets software developers who are building alternatives to the exact Big Tech systems the administration decries.
The administration has been pushing a “pay-for” measure in the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that would expand US government surveillance of cryptocurrency-related or decentralized projects. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future and 14 other civil society organizations have expressed grave concerns for the ?vague and dangerous? digital currency provision of the bill.
This digital currency provision has been sold as being about taxes. But it’s so poorly written that it would create reporting requirements demanding people like software developers and even volunteers within decentralized tech projects hand over data or conduct surveillance of their users. There are plenty of valid concerns around cryptocurrencies & ensuring that everyone pays their fair share of taxes. However, the provision in the Infrastructure Bill would demand data from people who don’t have it?effectively crushing a wide range of decentralized projects under misguided regulations.
Destroying decentralized projects would be a disaster for global human rights, freedom of expression, and democracy. Cryptocurrencies and decentralized tech projects are among the most promising potential solutions to address the harms of Big Tech. Decentralization could help end the era of surveillance capitalism.
If the Biden administration is serious about taking on Big Tech, it shouldn’t be actively trying to shut down communities of developers, volunteers, people who run nodes, and other participants in the very software projects that could one day help us escape the clutches of Facebook, Amazon, and Google. The original cryptocurrency provision in the Infrastructure Bill amounts to a dramatic expansion of government surveillance tacked on to a must-pass piece of legislation at the last minute. Policy that impacts human rights & the future of the Internet shouldn’t be made this way.
Fortunately, Senators Wyden, Lummis, and Toomey have introduced an amendment that would fix the problematic language in the Infrastructure Bill. This amendment is a win-win: it ensures actual crypto brokers like Coinbase pay their taxes, but clarifies the measure can’t be abused for broader surveillance or oppression of smaller decentralized projects.
Now even Senator Portman, who teamed up with the White House to draft the original cryptocurrency surveillance proposal in the Infrastructure Bill, is supporting this common sense amendment. Sadly, Senator Portman, who teamed up with the White House to draft the original cryptocurrency surveillance proposal in the Infrastructure Bill, pulled his former support for this common-sense amendment and introduced his own amendment that is even worse than the original provision itself.
Weirdly, the Biden administration seems to still be pushing the original language and opposing this amendment to the law that would clarify small players won?t be targeted. The administration simultaneously claims two opposing facts:
First, that the current language doesn’t target “small players” in the decentralization ecosystem at all.
Contrarily, the administration also states that the Wyden amendment would “put a dent” in the tax revenue generated?even though the amendment would just clarify that onerous reporting requirements don’t apply to people who wouldn’t even possess the surveillance data that this law would require to be turned over.
The White House can?t have it both ways on this. Either the language only targets actual cryptocurrency brokers, in which case the Wyden amendment would have no impact on the tax revenue generated?or the admin’s “pinky swear” that it won’t use this law to go after small players like software developers making wallets is false.
We can and should have real conversations about what types of policies should be in place to protect people, especially low income folks and communities vulnerable to surveillance, from cryptocurrency scams. We also need to ensure that giant corporations and millionaires pay their fair share of taxes. But if the Biden administration really cares about holding Big Tech companies accountable and giving people alternatives to Silicon Valley giants, they need to start getting smarter about how technology actually works, and advance policies that actually accomplish stated goals.
More than 10,000 people have called the Senate because the cryptocurrency surveillance provision in the Infrastructure Bill is a huge mess and a huge threat to digital innovation and human rights. The Wyden amendment will fix it. Democratic senators and the Biden administration should back off their hypocritical stance that calls for reining in Big Tech while also stifling any innovation that could replace it.
Evan Greer is an Executive Director and Lia Holland is Campaigns and Communications Director at Fight for the Future, a digital rights organization with 3 million members celebrating 10 years of defending human rights on the internet from malicious corporate interests and ill-informed legislators.