Porn

Unlike financial privacy, the issue of child porn so distasteful that most people shy away from questioning the motives or tactics of those who crusade against it. That’s a mistake. It gives a blank check to those who use this tragedy as a political opportunity to quietly impose policies that might otherwise hit a brick wall.

Also read: IWF Partnering with Bitcoin Startup a ‘Major Step’ in Crimefighting

Hardly Heroic

EllipticOn July 6, a Silicon Angle headline declared “Bitcoin surveillance startup Elliptic signs deal with IWF to track child porn buyers.” Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) is a group dedicated to the elimination of online child pornography. Elliptic is a Bitcoin watchdog that identifies “illicit activity on the Bitcoin blockchain and provide actionable intelligence to financial institutions and law enforcement agencies.”

Elliptic claims to “have delivered actionable evidence in cases involving international arms trafficking, money laundering, theft, and drug offences.”

With the exception of theft, however, many bitcoiners do not consider the reported activities to be criminal nor the actors to be criminals. This makes Elliptic instrumental in the prosecution or persecution of innocent people and hardly heroic. Bitcoin Average commented, “Jon Matonis, Founding Board Director of the Bitcoin Foundation, appeared not to like the idea of the startup raising capital to develop Bitcoin surveillance tools. He shared a link to the news on Reddit with part of the title reading ‘Tools War on Financial Privacy Escalates’.”

The reaction to child porn is different. Unlike financial privacy, the issue is so distasteful that most people shy away from questioning the motives or tactics of those who crusade against it. That’s a mistake. It gives a blank check to those who use the tragedy of child porn as a political opportunity to quietly impose policies that might otherwise hit a brick wall. It allows everyone’s financial and personal privacy to be undermined in the name of sexually abused children.

The Opportunistic Politics of Child Porn

Declarations of war on child pornography are almost always about political or financial control and rarely about protecting children. Child porn is guaranteed to enrage the public and disengage their critical faculties so that controversial measures can be imposed with little to no protest. Those who do protest can be tarred as pro-pedophile and so dismissed with slander and disgust. No wonder child porn has become the go-to issue for policy makers when their agenda cannot get a political pass and needs a back door with greased hinges.

Bitcoin.com_SurveillanceAt this point, articles are expected to decry the travesty of child porn. I do, and without political motive. But regulating the internet and surveilling blockchains in order to turn ‘bad actors’ into law enforcement is not a solution. If it were, then child porn would have been eliminated by the current surveillance state that is America. Instead, we are told child porn is a spreading epidemic. The proposed solution of surveillance is what Albert Einstein reputedly called insanity; “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Or, at least, the solution would be insanity if the problem it sought to solve was child pornography.

Tracking child pornographers is an excuse to monitor the entire internet and all bitcoin use — or, at least, to give it a try. Total surveillance is impossible but even approximating that goal would chill speech and commerce, damaging those individuals unlucky enough to be caught in the act of being free. That’s the underlying motive: control.

The information gathered by authorities will be used to enforce taxes and capital controls, to confiscate and fine, to ban the sale of legitimate but illegal goods. It will be used to impose social control. For example, many of the crypto-donations to causes such as Wikileaks and antiwar.com are anonymous or pseudonymous because people are sympathetic but self-defensive. Strip away the privacy and you strip away donations from causes upon which the state frowns.

Political Use of Child Porn Issue is Nothing New

In 2010, the UK organization Big Brother Watch reported “Paedophilia used as an excuse to snoop on internet users – again.” The article explained, “Members of the European Parliament are being asked to sign a written declaration that will, ostensibly, ‘set up a European early warning system for paedophiles and sex offenders’. In reality, it will extend the Data Retention Directive  to search engines.” The new provision required them to store telecommunications data and turn it over to law enforcement upon request.

1200x630_288110_european-court-of-justice-closes-dooThe Directive was annulled by the Court of Justice of the European Union in 2014 because it violated fundamental rights. In the wake of the document’s censure, some signatories rushed to explain their participation. According to Big Brother Watch, the Swedish Member of the European Parliament Cecilia Wikström wrote a public letter in which she claimed to have been “misled into signing the declaration.” It seems the declaration did not refer to data retention or to the Directive except by its bureaucratic ‘name’ (2006/24/EC), with which Wikström was unfamiliar. Instead, the “Declaration of the European Parliament of 23 June 2010 on setting up a European early warning system (EWS) for paedophiles and sex offenders” contained clauses such as “…the internet also allows paedophiles and sex offenders to enjoy freedom of action, putting them on the same footing as honest citizens and making it difficult for the authorities to trace them”

It does not forgive Wikström’s criminal naiveté – after all, her obliviousness oppressed average people – but it does spotlight the covert tactics by which totalitarian measures are instituted.

Elliptic’s Sleight-of-Hand

Those who exploit the analytic-blindness that surrounds emotional issues do so for profit in one form or another. Elliptic is attempting to insert itself into the core of the exploding industry that is cryptocurrency.

“The firm’s monitoring capability will be an essential component of any blockchain in the future and we will help Elliptic to expand in the US, via our contacts and knowledge of US law enforcement and government agencies.” Kenneth Minihan, a former director of the US National Security Agency and now a customer of Elliptic, stated. He added:

Elliptic is a game-changer for blockchain and is already trusted by some of the smartest minds in law enforcement and compliance.”

That trust should make every privacy and freedom-loving bitcoiner eye the company with distrust.

Bitcoin.com_anonymous Online MarketplacePerhaps aware of how backlash from the crypto-community could impede its market position, Elliptic has waged a PR campaign that seems intentionally disingenuous. A case in point: the company claims Bitcoin is not and never was anonymous. The message: we aren’t invading privacy because there never was any. In a contradictory message, the company promises to clients that it can remove anonymity from cryptocurrency use. A headline in the Merkle declared, “Banks Look At Elliptic To Remove Blockchain Anonymity.”

Elliptic hedges its bet by stating “the public image of bitcoin” is as “an anonymous, untraceable means of laundering proceeds of crime.” That may well be the public image but everyone in the Bitcoin community knows the currency is not anonymous but pseudonymous. In other words, bitcoins can be traced to fictitious (or real) names at wallets that can be opened and closed with ease.

A Wall Against Centralized Scrutiny

Is child porn an exploding epidemic? No one knows. The data is provided by politics and presented for profit. Even if the figures of “child porn sites” are accurate, it is far from clear how many of those sites were unknowingly infected by malware that implants the images. The genuine statistics are “dark figures” – a term criminologists use to describe a crime that is not and, perhaps, cannot be quantified. In the name of dark stats, real privacy is being peeled away.

Or the attempt to do so is afoot. The endeavor is likely to crash against obstacles. The ultra-decentralized nature of Bitcoin acts as a wall against centralized scrutiny. The crypto-community may be inspired to develop better privacy tools for the Bitcoin protocol. Elliptic could go the way of most startups and collapse spectacularly. Being irked by those who nose around my business, I am harsh enough to hope for the latter.

Do you think startups such as Elliptic could help law enforcement fight crime? Let us know in the comments below! 


Images courtesy of shutterstock, libertyblitzkrieg.com



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