The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Defending Rights and Dissent and 13 other organizations sent a letter to Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and other members of Congress asking them to act swiftly to amend the vague and dangerous digital currency provision of Biden’s infrastructure bill.
The fast-moving, must-pass legislation is over 2,000 pages and primarily focused on issues such as updating America’s highways and digital infrastructure. However, included in the “pay-for” section of the bill is a provision relevant to cryptocurrencies that includes a new, vague, and expanded definition of what constitutes a “broker” under U.S. tax law. As EFF described earlier this week, this vaguely worded section of the bill could be interpreted to mean that many actors in the cryptocurrency space—including software developers who merely write and publish code, as well as miners who verify cryptocurrency transactions—would suddenly be considered brokers, and thus need to collect and report identifying information on their users.
In the wake of heated opposition from the technical and civil liberties community, some senators are taking action. Senators Wyden, Lummis, and Toomey have introduced an amendment that seeks to ensure that some of the worst interpretations of this provision are excluded. Namely, the amendment would seek to clarify that miners, software developers who do not hold assets for customers, and those who create hardware and software to support consumers in holding their own cryptocurrency would not be implicated under the new definition of broker.
We have already seen how digital currency supports independent community projects, routes around financial censorship, and supports independent journalists around the world. Indeed, the decentralized nature of digital currency is allowing cryptographers and programmers to experiment with more privacy-protective exchanges, and to offer alternatives for those who wish to protect their financial privacy or those who have been subject to financial censorship.
The privacy rights of cryptocurrency users is a complex topic. Properly addressing such an issue requires ample opportunity for civil liberties experts to offer feedback on proposals. But there has been no opportunity to do that in the rush to fund this unrelated bill. That’s why the coalition that sent the letter—which includes national groups and local groups representing privacy advocates, journalists, technologists, and cryptocurrency users—shares a common concern about this provision's push to run roughshod over this nuanced issue.
The Wyden-Lummis-Toomey Amendment removes reporting obligations from network participants who don’t have, and shouldn’t have, access to customer information. It does so without affecting the reporting obligations placed on brokers and traders of digital assets.