Notes from the Senate Floor

Normally, there is very limited room for drawing legitimate comparisons between a Senate hearing and an Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fight. Yet the hearing entitled “Exploring the Cryptocurrency and Blockchain Ecosystem,” which took place on October 11, 2018 on the US Senate’s Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs’ floor, definitely bore quite a few similarities to a hyped sporting event that had made big waves just a few days ago. Two witnesses who were brought to testify on issues and promises of crypto stood by polarising views on the subject matter, albeit they expressed these views with varying intensity.

On the pro-crypto side, there was Peter Van Valkenburgh, Director of Research at Coin Center, a reserved yet very articulate speaker. In the opposite corner, there was Nouriel Roubini. Roubini or “Dr. Doom”, whose reputation is mainly founded on the prediction of the 2008 housing bubble crash, would be the fighter who does trash talking. In the buildup to the hearing, he fired a long series of vehement tweets, bashing blockchain and its supporters, picking local fights and bragging about having debated best crypto gurus and “beating them by a wide margin”.

Into the hearing

Chairman Mike Crapo, a Republican Senator from Idaho, opened the proceedings with a statement that gave a nod to Bitcoin’s unique status as the first ever digital asset, and highlighted how the bulk of the latest news on crypto has been negative, including falling prices and regulatory woes. Ranking member Sherrod Brown of Ohio weighed in to point out that it was almost Bitcoin’s tenth anniversary, yet the space is still rife with fraud and misconduct, while tangible applications are scarce. He mentioned regulatory issues and referenced the famous statement by Jay Clayton, the chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission, as well as the recent report by the Attorney General of New York that was anything but complementary to biggest crypto exchanges. Brown implied, however, that blockchain could be potentially useful for improving the lives of the unbanked and underserved.

Roubini’s testimony

In his speech, the New York University professor followed rather closely the rambling argument presented in his 30-page written statement. In addition to a constellation of derogatory terms – it is quite likely that for many senators this became the first encounter with terms like ‘shitcoin’ – Roubini developed several central talking points that he would reiterate dogmatically throughout his testimony and on to the Q&A session. He argued that the whole crypto ‘asset class is imploding’ now, following the steep decline of prices compared to late 2017, and educated senators on the study that identified 80 percent of initial coin offerings (ICOs) in the same year as scams. He added that digital assets are useless as currency, since they are unable to serve as unit of account, means of payment, or store value.

A recurrent theme in Roubini’s account was superiority of centralized payment systems to blockchain-based ones. Several times he brought up the claim that the Bitcoin network’s throughput is only five transactions per second, while Visa can process up to twenty-five thousand transactions per second. Other attacks included assertions that ‘nobody uses it for transactions,’ except for criminals and terrorists, while mining is an ‘environmental disaster.’

Roubini also offered a rather unconventional view of what constitutes the realm of fintech. He claimed that, indeed, there is a revolution in the financial services industry currently going on, yet it has nothing to do with blockchain. Instead, it is allegedly powered by artificial intelligence, big data, and the Internet of Things (IoT), and displays in proliferation of centralized digital payment systems.

Meanwhile, the crypto libertarian dream of total decentralization is ‘utter nonsense.’ In fact, Roubini claims, ‘crypto land’ is subject to the opposite trend: heavy centralization of mining – which is apparently controlled mainly by Chinese and Russian oligopolies, trading at the hands of centralized exchanges that are ‘hacked daily’, and development reserved for a narrow tech elite that arbitrarily changes code and forks coins whenever things go wrong.

Against this background, massive manipulation permeates the ‘crypto land,’ where pump & dump schemes, spoofing, and insider trading call the shots. In Roubini’s view, stable coins exist for the sole reason of manipulation; security tokens break all security laws, and utility tokens pave the way back to the Stone Age, where barter was prevalent. According to Roubini, even the “Flintstones knew better,” as they used clams as a universal currency.

Finally, corporate permissioned ledgers received their fair share of beating: according to Roubini, they are no more than ‘glorified databases,’ and they have no relation to the concept of blockchain.

Van Valkenburgh’s testimony

Right after Roubini’s furious charge, a composed account that Coin Center’s Van Valkenburgh delivered sounded almost soothing. The crypto advocate decided not to overcomplicate things, and dedicated a huge share of his time to explaining what Bitcoin is, what it does, and why is it revolutionary. Unlike cash, which only works face-to-face, Bitcoin is the world’s ‘first globally accessible public money.’ It is not yet ‘perfect or stable,’ yet it is working. Similar to the early years of the internet, the technology is full of loopholes and inefficiencies, but this is by no means a reason to abandon it.

Various kinds of human interactions, Van Valkenburgh maintained, are riddled with state or corporate chokepoints. Like the internet had removed such chokepoints from the realm of communication, blockchain’s promise is to do away with single points of failure that are inherent to other interaction systems’ designs – such as that of monetary transaction systems. Giant private corporations are increasingly prone to security failures, such as electronic bank robberies and massive personal data leaks. The rise of IoT makes such concerns even more grave, as even cars and pacers can now be targeted. According to Van Valkenburgh, no critical infrastructure has to have a single point of failure, and to achieve that, we need a ‘light-touch, pro-innovation’ policy in place.

Questions

Chairman Crapo opened up the floor for questions on where the crypto markets are headed next year, and what conditions need to converge in order for them to stabilize. Van Valkenburgh responded that volatility is raging due to the markets having a hard time with finding a level, a fair price for something very new and disruptive. However, institutional money have already brought some sense of stability: it’s been beneficial to have  Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) regulated crypto derivatives enter the market, but it would be even better if the SEC allows the trading of crypto-based exchange-traded funds. Having a nationally chartered bank for crypto custody would bring even more rationality to the market.

Criticisms thrice told

Roubini responded to this point with the argument that cryptocurrencies are not scalable, not decentralized, and not secure, seasoning his response with the same points about five transactions per second, widespread oligopolies, and no authority to go to in case if one’s funds get stolen. Crapo pressed on, asking what hinders faster development of decentralized computing technologies’ real-world applications. Van Valkenburgh deflected this with a reference to email, which first appeared in 1972 and took a couple of decades before going mainstream, while Roubini said that no government or corporation will use permissionless decentralized systems. The idea of decentralization, he maintained, “won’t fly, because it’s nonsense”.

Ranking member Brown inquired whether there are blockchain-based applications ‘on a broader scale,’ which Roubini took as a chance to dismiss permissionless blockchains again, grudgingly admitting that there is some useful innovation in the sphere of private distributed ledgers. Again, he lauded payment systems like Paypal, China’s WeChat Pay, and African M-Pesa as the ‘real revolution,’ dismissing decentralized crypto systems as being losing users and transactions. While the internet had a billion users after a decade in existence, he added, cryptocurrencies command the following of just 22 million.

As Senator Brown asked to describe a typical crypto investor, Van Valkenburgh painted a portrait of a young, tech-savvy person, and quickly moved to a more policy-relevant conversation. After praising the US Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s (FinCEN) trailblazing efforts in laying the groundwork for crypto investors’ protection, he criticized the current state-by-state approach to money transmission licenses’ issuance to crypto enterprises, and called for federal licensing system.

Bridging gender gaps & standing up to totalitarians

Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana demanded how the world got better since cryptocurrencies came into existence. Van Valkenburgh offered a story of an Afghani female entrepreneur who used crypto to pay her mostly female employees’ wages, which was the only way to do it in a society where women are especially underserved by banks, while few accounts that exist are often controlled by male relatives. Roubini, once again, brought up superiority of centralized payment systems and Bitcoin’s meager five transactions per second. He then went on to complain about concentration of miners in places like China, Russia, and – for some reason – Belarus and Georgia, claiming that these nations will use their alleged oligopolistic dominance to manipulate the US.

Van Valkenburgh retorted that with payment infrastructures like the Chinese WeChat Pay, users’ transaction records and personal details reside without encryption in centralized repositories, ready to be hacked or surveilled by the government, if needed. Such systems, he argued, are ‘tools for totalitarians.’

A word on security

Doug Jones of Alabama was concerned with the extent to which ‘bad guys’ and rogue nations can exploit the decentralized design of public blockchains. Van Valkenburgh noted that every worthy technology, especially at the early stages of development, gets exploited by shady characters – if it does not, it is probably not very useful. At the same time, he contended, US law enforcement is already quite comfortable for tracking illicit transactions on open ledgers. Roubini took to bemoaning the dangers of blockchains’ anonymity.

Potential for scaling

Pennsylvania senator Pat Toomey jumped in, showing off his intimacy with blockchain fundamentals and jargon. He said that while crypto assets are riddled with flaws, central banks do not have a flawless record of frictionless operations either. He suggested that an asset being a currency or not is just an issue of scale, and asked whether cryptocurrencies are fundamentally not scalable. Toomey was also interested whether the oligopolistic tendencies in mining really mattered for cryptocurrencies’ capacity to operate securely.

Van Valkenburgh delved into an overview of various scaling solutions, particularly highlighting the potential of batch settlement. He added that with oligopoly, you cannot really do much more to the network than denial-of-service attacks. Roubini’s response was anything but surprising:  five transactions per second, centralized mining, not secure. He explained that 51 percent attacks are a reality – they happen ‘every day’ with minor coins. Transactions costs “have gone through the roof,” while massive economies of scale implicit to mining operations incentivize cartelization.

ICO woes

Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was wondering how the theft of an aggregate $1.1 billion in the first half of 2018 was possible, as well as what could be done with the 80 percent rate of scam ICOs.  Van Valkenburgh explained that most of the funds stolen were in obscure alternative coins from overseas exchanges that failed to scale up their security systems to match the value they came to store. He also said he was on the same page with those who identify ICOs as securities, but added that it is entirely possible to have an ICO and comply with all the relevant securities regulations.

Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen appeared to be marginally interested in crypto affairs specifically. He lamented how the Fed was sluggish in moving towards a real-time payment system, blockchain-based or not, and moved on to solicit Roubini’s advice on the overall state and near perspectives of the US economy. The famed economist did not sound optimistic, suggesting that it’s possible that growth would stall by 2020.

Global KYC standards

Catherine Cortez Masto from Nevada was the last to pose questions. She asked if there are any provisions in the bitcoin protocol that enable detection of payments that go to human trafficking, drug trafficking, or money laundering. Van Valkenburgh responded that policing such activities is incumbent upon the businesses that operate on top of the blockchain, as well as law enforcement. Roubini noted that such policing won’t be efficient unless there is a globally ratified set of rules in place. Van Valkenburgh agreed that such a unified approach to know your customer (KYC) procedures are needed, marking a rare moment of solidarity with the opponent.

Finally, Cortez Masto asked Roubini whether he believed in blockchain technology’s successful applications beyond finance, to which he responded, once again, that no serious government or corporation would ever entrust an open, trustless, permissionless distributed system with any sensitive information. ‘It’s just nonsense!’ – he concluded.

Chairman Mike Crapo reminded senators that additional questions to witnesses, if any arise, are due within one week, and adjourned the hearing.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


Privacy Policy

WideBitcoin.com is committed to safeguarding your privacy. Contact us at if you have any questions or problems regarding the use of your Personal Data and we will gladly assist you.

By using this site or/and our services, you consent to the Processing of your Personal Data as described in this Privacy Policy.

Table of Contents

  1. Definitions used in this Policy
  2. Data protection principles we follow
  3. What rights do you have regarding your Personal Data
  4. What Personal Data we gather about you
  5. How we use your Personal Data
  6. Who else has access to your Personal Data
  7. How we secure your data
  8. Information about cookies
  9. Contact information

Definitions

Personal Data – any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person.
Processing – any operation or set of operations which is performed on Personal Data or on sets of Personal Data.
Data subject – a natural person whose Personal Data is being Processed.
Child – a natural person under 16 years of age.
We/us (either capitalized or not)

Data Protection Principles

We promise to follow the following data protection principles:

  • Processing is lawful, fair, transparent. Our Processing activities have lawful grounds. We always consider your rights before Processing Personal Data. We will provide you information regarding Processing upon request.
  • Processing is limited to the purpose. Our Processing activities fit the purpose for which Personal Data was gathered.
  • Processing is done with minimal data. We only gather and Process the minimal amount of Personal Data required for any purpose.
  • Processing is limited with a time period. We will not store your personal data for longer than needed.
  • We will do our best to ensure the accuracy of data.
  • We will do our best to ensure the integrity and confidentiality of data.

Data Subject’s rights

The Data Subject has the following rights:

  1. Right to information – meaning you have to right to know whether your Personal Data is being processed; what data is gathered, from where it is obtained and why and by whom it is processed.
  2. Right to access – meaning you have the right to access the data collected from/about you. This includes your right to request and obtain a copy of your Personal Data gathered.
  3. Right to rectification – meaning you have the right to request rectification or erasure of your Personal Data that is inaccurate or incomplete.
  4. Right to erasure – meaning in certain circumstances you can request for your Personal Data to be erased from our records.
  5. Right to restrict processing – meaning where certain conditions apply, you have the right to restrict the Processing of your Personal Data.
  6. Right to object to processing – meaning in certain cases you have the right to object to Processing of your Personal Data, for example in the case of direct marketing.
  7. Right to object to automated Processing – meaning you have the right to object to automated Processing, including profiling; and not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated Processing. This right you can exercise whenever there is an outcome of the profiling that produces legal effects concerning or significantly affecting you.
  8. Right to data portability – you have the right to obtain your Personal Data in a machine-readable format or if it is feasible, as a direct transfer from one Processor to another.
  9. Right to lodge a complaint – in the event that we refuse your request under the Rights of Access, we will provide you with a reason as to why. If you are not satisfied with the way your request has been handled please contact us.
  10. Right for the help of supervisory authority – meaning you have the right for the help of a supervisory authority and the right for other legal remedies such as claiming damages.
  11. Right to withdraw consent – you have the right withdraw any given consent for Processing of your Personal Data.

Data we gather

Information you have provided us with
This might be your e-mail address, name, billing address, home address etc – mainly information that is necessary for delivering you a product/service or to enhance your customer experience with us. We save the information you provide us with in order for you to comment or perform other activities on the website. This information includes, for example, your name and e-mail address.

Information automatically collected about you
This includes information that is automatically stored by cookies and other session tools. For example, your shopping cart information, your IP address, your shopping history (if there is any) etc. This information is used to improve your customer experience. When you use our services or look at the contents of our website, your activities may be logged.

Information from our partners
We gather information from our trusted partners with confirmation that they have legal grounds to share that information with us. This is either information you have provided them directly with or that they have gathered about you on other legal grounds. See the list of our partners here.

Publicly available information
We might gather information about you that is publicly available.

How we use your Personal Data

We use your Personal Data in order to:

  • provide our service to you. This includes for example registering your account; providing you with other products and services that you have requested; providing you with promotional items at your request and communicating with you in relation to those products and services; communicating and interacting with you; and notifying you of changes to any services.
  • enhance your customer experience;
  • fulfil an obligation under law or contract;

We use your Personal Data on legitimate grounds and/or with your Consent.

On the grounds of entering into a contract or fulfilling contractual obligations, we Process your Personal Data for the following purposes:

  • to identify you;
  • to provide you a service or to send/offer you a product;
  • to communicate either for sales or invoicing;

On the ground of legitimate interest, we Process your Personal Data for the following purposes:

  • to send you personalized offers* (from us and/or our carefully selected partners);
  • to administer and analyse our client base (purchasing behaviour and history) in order to improve the quality, variety, and availability of products/ services offered/provided;
  • to conduct questionnaires concerning client satisfaction;

As long as you have not informed us otherwise, we consider offering you products/services that are similar or same to your purchasing history/browsing behaviour to be our legitimate interest.

With your consent we Process your Personal Data for the following purposes:

  • to send you newsletters and campaign offers (from us and/or our carefully selected partners);
  • for other purposes we have asked your consent for;

We Process your Personal Data in order to fulfil obligation rising from law and/or use your Personal Data for options provided by law. We reserve the right to anonymise Personal Data gathered and to use any such data. We will use data outside the scope of this Policy only when it is anonymised. We save your billing information and other information gathered about you for as long as needed for accounting purposes or other obligations deriving from law, but not longer than 1 year.

We might process your Personal Data for additional purposes that are not mentioned here, but are compatible with the original purpose for which the data was gathered. To do this, we will ensure that:

  • the link between purposes, context and nature of Personal Data is suitable for further Processing;
  • the further Processing would not harm your interests and
  • there would be appropriate safeguard for Processing.

We will inform you of any further Processing and purposes.

Who else can access your Personal Data

We do not share your Personal Data with strangers. Personal Data about you is in some cases provided to our trusted partners in order to either make providing the service to you possible or to enhance your customer experience. We share your data with:

Our processing partners:

  • facebook.com
  • google.com
  • bing.com
  • twitter.com
  • pinterest.com

Our business partners:

  • facebook.com
  • google.com
  • bing.com
  • twitter.com
  • pinterest.com

Connected third parties:

  • facebook.com
  • google.com
  • bing.com
  • twitter.com
  • pinterest.com

We only work with Processing partners who are able to ensure adequate level of protection to your Personal Data. We disclose your Personal Data to third parties or public officials when we are legally obliged to do so. We might disclose your Personal Data to third parties if you have consented to it or if there are other legal grounds for it.

How we secure your data

We do our best to keep your Personal Data safe. We use safe protocols for communication and transferring data (such as HTTPS). We use anonymising and pseudonymising where suitable. We monitor our systems for possible vulnerabilities and attacks.

Even though we try our best we can not guarantee the security of information. However, we promise to notify suitable authorities of data breaches. We will also notify you if there is a threat to your rights or interests. We will do everything we reasonably can to prevent security breaches and to assist authorities should any breaches occur.

If you have an account with us, note that you have to keep your username and password secret.

Children

We do not intend to collect or knowingly collect information from children. We do not target children with our services.

Cookies and other technologies we use

We use cookies and/or similar technologies to analyse customer behaviour, administer the website, track users’ movements, and to collect information about users. This is done in order to personalize and enhance your experience with us.

A cookie is a tiny text file stored on your computer. Cookies store information that is used to help make sites work. Only we can access the cookies created by our website. You can control your cookies at the browser level. Choosing to disable cookies may hinder your use of certain functions.

We use cookies for the following purposes:

  • Necessary cookies – these cookies are required for you to be able to use some important features on our website, such as logging in. These cookies don’t collect any personal information.
  • Functionality cookies – these cookies provide functionality that makes using our service more convenient and makes providing more personalised features possible. For example, they might remember your name and e-mail in comment forms so you don’t have to re-enter this information next time when commenting.
  • Analytics cookies – these cookies are used to track the use and performance of our website and services
  • Advertising cookies – these cookies are used to deliver advertisements that are relevant to you and to your interests. In addition, they are used to limit the number of times you see an advertisement. They are usually placed to the website by advertising networks with the website operator’s permission. These cookies remember that you have visited a website and this information is shared with other organisations such as advertisers. Often targeting or advertising cookies will be linked to site functionality provided by the other organisation.

You can remove cookies stored in your computer via your browser settings. Alternatively, you can control some 3rd party cookies by using a privacy enhancement platform such as optout.aboutads.info or youronlinechoices.com. For more information about cookies, visit allaboutcookies.org.

We use Google Analytics to measure traffic on our website. Google has their own Privacy Policy which you can review here. If you’d like to opt out of tracking by Google Analytics, visit the Google Analytics opt-out page.

Read more about cookies on our Cookie Policy

Contact Information

email: contact@widebitcoin.com

Changes to this Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to make change to this Privacy Policy.

You can configure your Internet browser, by changing its options, to stop accepting cookies completely or to prompt you before accepting a cookie from the website you visit. If you do not accept cookies, however, you may not be able to use all portions of the WideBitcoin Websites or all functionality of the Services.

Please note that disabling these technologies may interfere with the performance and features of the Services.

You may also disable cookies on the WideBitcoin Sites by modifying your settings here:

Visitor comments may be checked through an automated spam detection service.

Last Update: May 25, 2018