May 17, 2013 | By Cindy Cohn and Peter Eckersley and rainey Reitman and Seth Schoen

EFF Will Accept Bitcoins to Support Digital Liberty

Today, we’re happy to announce that we will be accepting Bitcoin donations through our website. You can use them to make one-time donations, set up monthly donations or get an EFF membership (which includes awesome membership swag like EFF hats and digital freedom t-shirts).

While we are accepting Bitcoin donations, EFF is not endorsing Bitcoin.  EFF does not typically endorse products or services, and we certainly do not endorse any of the electronic payment methods that we currently accept (credit cards, PayPal, and now BitPay).

With respect to Bitcoin as a technology, there is clearly a lot more to be said. Currently it seems that Bitcoin, while innovative, has a number of limitations and weaknesses in its design, and might yet turn out to be just the first draft for future crypto-currencies.1 However, as an organization that supports cryptographic experimentation, we believe the best answer to Bitcoin's potential shortcomings is for others to come along and offer superior alternatives.

Along the way, we want to give our supporters as much flexibility as possible in making donations to EFF. You can click to make a donation to EFF by credit card, PayPal, Bitcoin, and, in the future, hopefully many other payment systems as well.

How We Got Here

Two years ago, EFF decided to stop taking Bitcoins for a number of reasons and returned the coins to the community via the Bitcoin faucet and promised to investigate further. Since then, we’ve been watching the public debate around Bitcoins, seeing the ecosystem develop around them, and conducting our own research on the possible legal issues.

Here were some of the factors we considered when making this decision:

Censorship by payment intermediaries is an ongoing problem for free speech online – so it makes sense to start diversifying the available options. EFF has long tried to identify and fortify the weakest links for speech online, and payment processors remain a significant problem.  We’ve seen payment processors with policies that ban speech that would be strongly protected under the First Amendment, that arbitrarily enforce those policies, and that offer no process at all for reinstating closed accounts, much less the sort of due process that the government would have to engage in to shut down speech. We’ve seen payment providers cave to pressure from government officials to shut down accounts. We’ve seen payment intermediaries shut off accounts to censor First Amendment-protected online content. And we’ve seen legislators propose misguided censorship legislation that would have put payment providers in the position of actively shutting down the accounts of individuals accused of copyright infringement. Because of this, we’re generally interested in ways of diversifying the market around payment options, so that a handful of big market players won’t be able to exercise such a stranglehold over online speech.

You can now give Bitcoins to EFF in the same way that you can give stock.  EFF has long had a policy that converts gifts of stock and items like cars into cash immediately on receipt. We try to convert your donations into action as soon as possible. Another factor in our decision to take Bitcoins is availability of services like BitPay, which accepts donations for EFF and automatically converts those into dollars which we receive and can immediately put to use. It is akin to the way Stripe processes credit card donations on eff.org, but also akin to the way you can donate a car to EFF.

This relieves EFF of the burden of managing the Bitcoin account. It also ensures that we’re never hanging on to a large quantity of Bitcoins, which was a problem two years ago—we had enough sitting in the account that we likely could have affected the market had we dumped it all at once. The BitPay service also means that our policy and processing are consistent across different types of donations. Most importantly, it allows us to focus on what we do—protect rights online—and ensures that we don’t have a financial stake in the outcome of a digital rights issue, such as whether a particular company does well or the value of Bitcoins grows or takes a dip.

Our research and FinCEN’s guidance removed a key risk to EFF. Both our internal research and the recent report by FinCEN2 have confirmed that, as a user of Bitcoin or any virtual currency, EFF itself is likely not subject to regulation. While some have raised concerns about the FinCEN ruling, and noted that it’s not binding, it did confirm our own analysis of risk to us as a user and reduced our concerns that by accepting Bitcoins EFF risked moving away from its role as a defender of innovators and into the role as a possible defendant.

Our members keep politely asking for it. Ultimately, EFF needs to make independent decisions to do what is technically and legally best for supporting liberty online.  Sometimes that means taking on positions or defending views that are unpopular—including those that are unpopular with our members. But we're pleased to be able to provide our members with something they have asked for—repeatedly and passionately—when it’s possible for us.

We already accept lots of unusual forms of donations. Right now, you can donate a car to EFF (PDF), or airline miles, or proceeds from your book, or even stock from your company. We’re happy today to add one more way for digital rights enthusiasts to support our work.

Click here to donate now.

EFF at Bitcoin 2013 Also, if you're planning on attending the Bitcoin 2013 conference in San Jose this weekened, please say hello. We (Rainey and Seth) will both be at the conference, and Rainey will be speaking about financial censorship on a panel on Saturday. Check the schedule on the website for details.

  • 1. A full discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the Bitcoin design will have to wait for a future blog post, but we note here that Bitcoin is very often not anonymous in the ways users might believe or expect, because (for instance) the network doesn't actively conceal the IP addresses from which transactions were initiated; its expenditure of large amounts of computational resources may turn out to be unnecessary; and its monetary policy is controversial and arguably designed to incentivize adoption and holding of the currency, rather than maximizing valuable economic transactions. The fact that Bitcoin is subject to criticism should not be surprising; it would have been much more surprising if the first widely used cryptographic currency had been perfect, and very active research continues on ways of improving Bitcoin or creating new crypto-currencies with other properties.
  • 2. Note that we are not endorsing FinCEN's guidance as a matter of law or policy.

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