NY Judge Rules Bitcoins Subject to Money Laundering Statutes

U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest was not impressed with the legal arguments made by Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht in his bid to dismiss his drug and money laundering charges. In a 51 page ruling, available here, she denied the motion. Among her rulings: Bitcoins are close enough to currency to count as money for the purposes of the money laundering statute. [More...]

She points out in her opinion that neither the IRS nor FinCEN have the power to define money laundering laws. And she said it was easily clear enough that bitcoin had function as money in the Silk Road’s dealings. “Sellers using Silk Road are not alleged to have given their narcotics and malicious software away for free – they are alleged to have sold them,” she writes. “The money laundering statute is broad enough to encompass use of Bitcoins in financial transactions. Any other reading would—in light of Bitcoins’ sole raison d’etre—be nonsensical.”

What about the recent innovation called Dark Wallet? Will it succeed? Its creators say it's a "money laundering app." They make no excuses as to its purpose:

Wilson states plainly that he intends Dark Wallet to be used for anonymous online black markets like the Silk Road, the bitcoin-based drug bazaar seized by the FBI in October. “I want a private means for black market transactions,” says Wilson, “whether they’re for non-prescribed medical inhalers, MDMA for drug enthusiasts, or weapons.”

Nor does he deny that Dark Wallet might enable heinous crimes like child pornography, murder-for-hire, and terrorism. “Well, yes, bad things are going to happen on these marketplaces,” Wilson says. “Liberty is a dangerous thing.”

How does Dark Wallet offer more protection than Bitcoins? According to the co-creators, Cody Wilson and Amir Taaki, the answer is a process called "CoinJoin."

“CoinJoin.” Every time a user makes a payment with Dark Wallet, the program is set by default to combine the transaction with that of another Dark Wallet user attempting to make a payment around the same time. The communications to set up that multiparty transaction are encrypted, so that detecting who paid whom becomes far more difficult. Eventually, Dark Wallet plans to expand CoinJoin to combine payments of three or more users, creating an even more tangled web of money flows.

Wired has a new in depth interview with the Dark Wallet duo, Waiting for Dark. Wilson and Takki are very clear about their goals.

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.

Even ISIS is keen to try it out. An ISIS supporter recently wrote in a post called "Bitcoin and the Charity of Violent Physical Struggle":

“Dark Wallet is a new Bitcoin wallet designed to completely hide the activities of it’s [sic] users, providing total online anonymity…. This allows our brothers stuck outside of the [Islamic State territory] to avoid government taxes along with secretly fund the mujahideen with no legal danger upon them... This system has the potential to revive the lost sunnah of donating to the mujahideen, it is simple, easy, and we ask Allah to hasten it’s usage for us."

In response to those who say Dark Wallet is "financing bloodshed", Taaki counters with:

“Humanity doesn’t need tools for funding violence, and that’s not what this is about... “We do need tools to buy and sell drugs online, to gamble online, to transfer money to Iranians and North Koreans, to enable kids to run businesses on the Internet, to manage resources collectively.”

Do they really want a lawless society? The author says yes.

[T]he potential to create a new, lawless society in the shadows of an impotent government is exactly what Wilson has in mind.

What do they see in the future?

Math and consensus, not violence, might govern the control of resources. The result, as Taaki describes it, would be a new society where code replaces courts and men with guns as the arbiter of civilization. “We have new tools, a new class of mathematical contracts, based on the incorruptible rules of the cosmos.”

Are they hopelessly idealistic, or dangerous? I don't have the background to speak to the soundness of their Dark Wallet plan, but their views of society and government seem absurdly simplistic to me. I suspect they haven't given these issues much thought and are just making stuff up as they go along.

“We’re villains! We’re going to reclaim our world, and we’re going to be proud of it.”

They bring to mind the popular cult movie from the 60's, Wild in the Streets, about a group whose motto was "Don't trust anyone over 30." (Here's the main song, the Shape of Things to Come.) They take over the Government:

Thirty becomes a mandatory retirement age, while those over 35 are rounded up, sent to "re-education camps", and permanently dosed on LSD....With youth now in control of the United States, politically as well as economically, and similar revolutions breaking out in all the world's major countries, [President]Max [Frost] withdraws the military from around the world (turning them instead into de facto age police), puts computers and prodigies in charge of the gross national product, ships surplus grain for free to third world nations, disbands the FBI and Secret Service, and becomes the leader of "the most truly hedonistic society the world has ever known". The final moments of the film indicate, however, that Max and his cohorts may face future inter-generational warfare from an unexpected source - children ten years of age and younger.

It's one thing to be anti-authoritarian, it's another to just spout nonsense. Their faith in the First Amendment notwithstanding, I won't be surprised if instead of ushering in a new society, these two end up spending a few decades in prison.

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  • Display: Sort:
    An epic post, Jeralyn. (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Mr Natural on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 07:40:23 AM EST
    It's one thing to be anti-authoritarian, it's another to just spout nonsense.

    lol.  You're channeling my inner curmudgeon.

    An excerpt from NYT article (none / 0) (#2)
    by oculus on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 10:08:08 AM EST
    re congresspersons who are Jewish:

    Jewish Republicans are for better or worse panicking that there is going to be no representation," said Adam Kwasman, a Jewish Tea Party candidate for Congress who has Leviticus 25:10 tattooed in Hebrew on his right shoulder ("Proclaim liberty throughout the ends of the earth unto all its inhabitants") and script from the Declaration of Independence on his left.

    Are you sure that "Dark Wallet" isn't (5.00 / 2) (#3)
    by Peter G on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 11:56:35 AM EST
    a satire of the natural end of Libertarian/Randian thinking?

    Sounds like where your money goes to die (none / 0) (#4)
    by ruffian on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 08:39:26 PM EST
    Untraceable money paid to people you don't know for goods you will probably never receive.

    Actually, it is probably my 401k (5.00 / 2) (#5)
    by ruffian on Sat Jul 12, 2014 at 08:39:58 PM EST
    That is hysterically sadly side splitting funny (none / 0) (#8)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Nov 07, 2014 at 04:45:21 PM EST
    Maybe it's going to be... (none / 0) (#7)
    by unitron on Wed Jul 16, 2014 at 01:48:07 AM EST
    ...a character from a new Mel Brooks movie.

    Jeralyn, are you putting your name out there.... (none / 0) (#6)
    by magster on Mon Jul 14, 2014 at 11:37:03 AM EST
    for Magistrate or District Court Judge? Seems like you'd be a good one, and with both Senators in CO being Dems and the President being one too...