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US Judiciary Leans Towards Disclosure Laws That Could Confiscate Electronic Assets
By Staff News & Analysis - September 27, 2012
Jail time for refusing to comply with mandatory key disclosure hasn't occurred in the United States yet. But, it's already happening in jurisdictions such as the UK, where a 33-year-old man was incarcerated for refusing to turn over his decryption keys and a youth was jailed for not disclosing a 50-character encryption password to authorities. Similarly harsh, key disclosure laws also exist in Australia and South Africa which compel individuals to surrender cryptographic keys to law enforcement without regard for the usual common law protection against self-incrimination. – Forbes
Dominant Social Theme: If you encrypt it, it's good as gold.
Free-Market Analysis: Here's something we don't ordinarily see in the mainstream press: thoughtful, even courageous, reporting. The author of this article, Jon Matonis, has pointed out that where cryptography has succeeded, authoritarianism must eventually follow.
In fact, his point is even more subversive: Successful encryption PROVOKES the state. Using Tor encryption, many currently feel secure about their state of affairs. But the rampant state in the 21st century has the answer to this: It will simply arrest you and throw you in jail until you render your "key" unto Caesar. Here's some more from the article:
Key disclosure laws may become the most important government tool in asset seizures and the war on money laundering. When charged with a criminal offense, that refers to the ability of the government to demand that you surrender your private encryption keys that decrypt your data. If your data is currency such as access control to various amounts of bitcoin on the block chain, then you have surrendered your financial transaction history and potentially the value itself.
These laws will impact not only money laundering prosecution but almost any asset protection strategy that attempts to maintain an element of financial privacy such as private banking or family trusts. Prior to all these money laundering laws being enacted, I once heard it said that the practice of moving money around was simply referred to as banking.
Doug Casey famously said that "it's a completely artificial crime. It wasn't even heard of 20 years ago, because the 'crime' didn't exist." Furthermore he said, "The War on Drugs may be where 'money laundering' originated as a crime, but today it has a lot more to do with something infinitely more important to the state: the War on Tax Evasion." And, if they can't track it from the outside via the banks and financial institutions, they'll track it from the inside via access to an individual's passwords and private keys.
In the United States, relevant case law has revolved around the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination as there is currently no specific law regarding key disclosure. The definition of a password is alarmingly broad too — all the way from an extension of your personal memory to an illegitimate tool that only hides something tangible from law enforcement ...
If I'm reading ... correctly, the Court is not saying that there is no Fifth Amendment privilege against being forced to divulge a password. Rather, the Court is saying that the Fifth Amendment privilege can't be asserted in a specific case where it is known based on the facts of the case that the computer belongs to the suspect and the suspect knows the password ...
What Matonis is referring to is something that we brought up previously regarding various kinds of asset protection schemes. We focused specifically on LETS systems and asked why the United Nations was so involved in promoting them.
We postulated that the real reason that the powers-that-be were not, apparently, so opposed to these systems was because ultimately they would prove traceable.
In fact, as we subsequently learned, TOR encryption was partially a product of the US State Department! It was developed perhaps to support the phony "youth rebellions" now sweeping the Middle East. But the participation of US fedgov in the development of fundamental encryption software should surely provoke questions among those who are participating in the resurgence of these systems.
LETS systems were initially supported by elite controlled Fabians and are today supported by various UN proclamations and are deeply involved in the Green fascist movement. And Tor encryption that is relied upon by Bitcoin is a product of the US government.
We asked if those who use these systems are sure that the meticulous logs they're forced to keep would not eventually be used against them. Both LETS and Bitcoin demand such logs.
We also wondered about the mysterious founder of LETS. Like WikiLeaks's Assange, his debut was dramatic indeed – as is his subsequent disappearance. You can read some of our articles on these issues here.
The violence with which proponents of pure-fiat systems attack gold, silver and free-market thinking generally leads us to believe at some level that there are other agendas at work.
As far as encrypted money systems go, we made the point that such systems are fragile at ingress and egress especially. And further, such systems demand fairly good computer literacy. Electronic money, from a privacy standpoint, is not for everyone.
Matonis seems to share our view:
To say the cryptocurrency bitcoin is disruptive would be an understatement. Bitcoin not only disrupts payments and monetary sovereignty, it also disrupts the legal enforcement of anti-money laundering laws, asset seizure, and capital controls. It is very likely that a key disclosure case will make it to the U.S. Supreme Court where it is far from certain that the Fifth Amendment privilege, as it relates to a refusal to decrypt bitcoin assets, will be universally upheld.
This is the issue, really. If the authorities wish to "break the code," they won't spend weeks patiently trying to do it. They'll simply yank you and your computer out of the house and put you in the slammer until you reveal your password. Simple.
Here at the Daily Bell we've constantly maintained that we support competing currencies, even pure-fiat ones. But we are also skeptical – especially given their UN support and the involvement of the US government in developing Bitcoin's chief anonymizer.
The invasive central recordkeeping also gives us pause, as do other issues surrounding Bitcoin – especially the willingness of some central users to work with US Intel to identify users. Finally, when it comes to LETS systems and to the successful implementation of these systems, we wonder if it is not the times driving them as much as their utility.
Back in 2006, the "Bull! (not Bull)" blog reprinted an excerpt from The Future of Money, by Bernard Lietar. An insightful feedback entry was posted on the thread from "Patrick." Here's an excerpt (cleaned up) regarding the Worgle stamp scrip still popular in Germany (a system at least partially devised by Silvio Gesell).
As for the Worgl stamp scrip this is not as simple as it appears. It is presented on the basis of a poor village that was broke being transformed into a wealthy village. However here are some issues to think about. The stamp scrip money has to be validated by paying 1% per month of its value, so that it remains spendable. This means that the issuers are effectively taxing the holder at 12% per annum, the purpose being to encourage people to spend rather than hoard money. It's like being charged interest on your savings!
However who would accept payment in such a currency if they had a choice? Surely only people who could not afford to save anyway (the poor). If you were a merchant and the villagers were buying merchandise from your store (which you had previously paid for in real currency) with a currency that could not be used outside the village and that was decreasing in value by 12% per annum, would you want to accept it as payment? If you did, I'm sure that you would increase the price of your goods to offset the loss you might incur by holding it.
You would then probably use it to pay your taxes to get rid of it. This type of arrangement would have to be permanent because if the issuer took the stamp money back out of circulation then the money supply would dry up again which was the original problem. The only way this could work would be in a self sufficient society which did not import anything and therefore only needed to circulate currency within it's own boarders. This arrangement is also inflationary. Inflation is not so much prices increasing but the value of money decreasing relative to goods. There is a lot more to this than meets the eye.
There continues to be an anti-free market, pro-government tenor of some of the support for these systems. They are proposed in some cases as much to attack free-market thinking as to promote alternatives.
Of course, an argument can be made that metals are not ultimately anonymous, either. But we would argue that systems that demand pervasive recordkeeping are fundamentally questionable when it comes to anonymity. The use of precious metals does not demand such recordkeeping at a personal level.
The use of pure-fiat systems is surely growing. Whether they will prove to be the monetary panacea that backers claim remains to be seen. We figure no matter what happens, people will continue to turn to gold, and silver as well, in hard times, as they have for thousands of years.
That's not a bad thing, in our view. Money metals, especially silver, have proven to be allies in the fight against tyranny throughout history.