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Monday, July 14, 2014

Greenberg on "Crypto-Anarchists" Cody Wilson and Amir Taaki

At Wired, Andy Greenberg has an excellent article on "crypto-anarchists" Cody Wilson and Amir Taaki. Wilson and Taaki are involved in projects like Dark Wallet that would make digital currencies like Bitcoins hard, or impossible, to trace. Wilson is the person behind Defense Distributed, the company that made the first gun entirely out of 3D printed parts. The article describes how Taaki and Wilson got involved with their endeavors and details their projects and goals.

From the article:

Dark Wallet also offers what it calls “stealth addresses” that allow a user to receive bitcoins at an encrypted address, where only he or she can retrieve them using a private key. When a coin passes through either a CoinJoin transaction or a stealth address, it becomes vastly more difficult to track, making taxation, regulation, and prosecution virtually impossible. “We want a bitcoin that laughs at the regulatory pageantry,” Wilson says. “We’re going to permanently problematize bitcoin’s reputation.”
. . . 
“Everywhere there’s a computer, there would be the promise of a gun,” [Wilson] told me when we first spoke in 2012. “I see a world where contraband will pass underground through the data cables to be printed in our homes as the drones move overhead. I see a kind of poetry there. I dream of this very weird future and I’d like to be a part of it.”
Wilson and Taaki pursue a vision of a world where people have "tools that make illegal behavior so commonplace and technically trivial that the law ceases to be relevant." People who agree with this vision embrace technologies like Bitcoins and 3D printers because these technologies upset existing legal regimes and therefore resist traditional regulation.

The interest in circumventing laws with new technology is not restricted to idealists like Wilson and Taaki. The article points out that groups promoting terrorism have specifically identified Dark Wallet as a useful tool for funneling illegal funds. Digital currencies like Bitcoins are increasingly used for illegal activities such as the sale of drugs and child pornography.

Wilson and Taaki's ideal of undermining traditional laws illustrates why governments need to develop regulations for emerging technologies, or adapt existing regulatory schemes to apply to new technology. Law has often lagged behind technological advances, but the need to bring law up to speed gains new urgency when those behind the development of technology are actively seeking to bypass regulations.

Additionally, this article illustrates the particular importance of legal scholarship that tries to answer questions about regulating new technology. Not only will this scholarship tend to be novel, but it will be useful, since legal scholarship on bitcoins, 3D printing, and other emerging technologies will be the first arena where legal questions about these new technologies are presented and answered.

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