Senator Schumer Says Bitcoin Is Money Laundering

from the apparently,-he's-unfamiliar-with-cash dept

A few months back, we explored Bitcoin, and the growing attention it was receiving. The distributed currency has certainly been getting a lot of attention lately (causing the exchange rate to skyrocket). Of course, as with any such thing, there was bound to be some sort of backlash from political circles, and this one was extremely predictable. Last week, Gawker wrote a story about Silk Road, the online drug marketplace that users can only access via TOR and where the only currency accepted is Bitcoin. To be honest, the story sounds a little too good, and too "Hollywood" to be real, but perhaps it is real. I find it a little difficult to believe that it has all that many users, given the complex nature of getting it to work.

Either way, Senator Chuck Schumer, who can grandstand with the best of them, apparently got handed that article and saw an opportunity to publicly demand that something must be done about Silk Road. It seems clear from his remarks that Senator Schumer has never heard of TOR:
"Literally, it allows buyers and users to sell illegal drugs online, including heroin, cocaine, and meth, and users do sell by hiding their identities through a program that makes them virtually untraceable," Schumer said at a news conference Sunday. "It's a certifiable one-stop shop for illegal drugs that represents the most brazen attempt to peddle drugs online that we have ever seen. It's more brazen than anything else by lightyears."
Lightyears? Really? In another report he claims that Silk Road and other drug sites are "flooding our streets" with drugs. Except... they're not. There are probably a small handful of people using things like Silk Road today, and they're almost certainly doing it for home use, rather than to "flood the streets." But, that doesn't make for as good a form of grandstanding.

As for "the program that makes them virtually untraceable," he seems to ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton (his former co-Senator from the state of New York) has talked up the value of software like TOR, which makes identities untraceable, as an important tool for freedom of expression around the world. Thankfully, Schumer doesn't seem to go quite as far as directly blaming TOR, though he doesn't appear to separate TOR from Silk Road, despite them being two different things. Also, lightyears? Really?

What he does go after, however, is Bitcoin:
"It's an online form of money laundering used to disguise the source of money, and to disguise who's both selling and buying the drug," said Schumer.
Um. You know what else is a form of currency that is used to disguise the source of money? Cash. And, last I checked, it's still legal tender. Blaming the semi-anonymous nature of Bitcoin is severely misplaced. In fact, in the original Gawker article, there's an update at the end (perhaps Schumer didn't get that far, or never reloaded) where it points out that Bitcoin really isn't quite that anonymous, and quotes a Bitcoin developer as noting that trying to buy drugs via Bitcoin "is pretty damned dumb."

But, according to Schumer, it's "a form of money laundering."

This will get interesting. No matter what you think of Bitcoin (and I'm certainly not sold on the concept), it's pretty clear that governments will attack such forms of currency if given the chance. A silly story about something like Silk Road opens up just such a chance. My guess is that Schumer won't actually do anything about Bitcoin right now (the focus appears to be mainly on Silk Road), but it won't be long before we see more politicians seeking ways to "do something" about Bitcoin by falsely painting it as something evil, just because some people use it for illegal purposes.

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  1. identicon
    Alastair McKenzie, 6 Jun 2011 @ 10:18am

    You came to the core of it delicately (" it's pretty clear that governments will attack such forms of currency if given the chance. A silly story about something like Silk Road opens up just such a chance.) but you are absolutely right.

    EVERY time people write about laundering money, buying drugs, gambling or other fringe activities (alpaca socks ffs!) they are simply pre-arming the right-wing luddites like this moron senator, with the weapons they'll use to attack Bitcoin or any other p2p currency they can't control.

    Instead, people should be concentrating on the real benefits that would help swing popular opinion behind the currency when battle is joined. Eg The inability of central banks to print money. The absence of 'moral hazard' - banks and traders are on their own if they go bust. The inability of Wall St parasites to speculate when they can't see where the money is going. Direct exchange with no banks involved.

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