The crypto community is libertine, candid, permissive. Wish to imbibe your way through life, slamming heroin while snorting cocaine, be our guest. Want to sell your ass to the highest bidder, go for it, Jack.
There’s something about acts of privacy, the secrecy baked-in to cryptography, that leaves the ecosystem comfortable with others doing things we’re not exactly thrilled about endorsing in the personal sense. At the root of crypto as currency is the ability to make cash an instrument of caprice, whim, desire, subjectivity.
Humility seems to be in the cryptocurrency ethical melange as well. The ecosystem has plenty of opinions, and on about every topic imaginable. All the good and shittyness of any given society finds its way into crypto, for sure. The difference between it and other forms of money issued by bodies with legal monopolies on violence is we cannot force folks to use our version. This can lead to an orientation of leaving people alone because we must, but it also encourages doing so because we simply do not know what is best for them. They’re left to make their own decisions, for better or worse.
And so it was with all this in mind, a young Ross Ulbricht helped create the notorious underground marketplace Silk Road. It was an ideological move. Forget the goings-on within the site for now, and understand Ulbricht did this on purpose. Dark or deep web sites were nothing new. Lots already existed.
Instead, it was a chance to merge at least two technologies within a firm philosophical grounding. Bitcoin, then the plaything of cypherpunks, themselves very ideological, was still finding a use case, something to prove its viability as a peer-to-peer electronic cash. And since legacy payment systems, credit cards and their less friction involved sister platforms such as PayPal, involve lacks of privacy, bitcoin might be an attractive alternative for an online bazaar.
Bitcoin was enticing tech because it allowed a digital form of pseudo anonymity in the paper money sense. Silk Road, the eBay of products and services run afoul of government prohibitions, married the nascent tech with a Tor-laden, privacy zealous community in dire need.
Ulbricht’s insight was merging crypto with overt, radical free marketism. Silk Road brought buyers and sellers together, each allowed to be as open and transparent as they’d like. There’s plenty of anecdotal study to suggest Bitcoin thrived under such an arrangement, signaling to early adopters cryptocurrency was for real. Everyone was watching.
And, sure enough, Ross Ulbricht’s arrest sent the price into free fall, confirming as much. The evidence, however, was impossible to deny: it was too late for those who might’ve hoped the crypto experiment would die by sending Ulbrichts of the world a nasty message.
The community divided over what it all meant, and still does although less so now. Some blanched at the idea Silk Road could be credited with jump-starting crypto. Great, they outwardly lamented, now we’re forever tied to drugs and scofflaws—no one will ever take us seriously.
Maybe they were right. Certainly mainstream press outlets ran with the narrative, and it has been hard to shake this reputation. I’ll concede that right away. But crypto enthusiasts have to know better ultimately.
Again, we’re agnostic on prohibition and petty legalisms. Bitcoin and the broader world Satoshi Nakamoto gave intellectual birth to is and was an illegal endeavour on its face. If crypto zealots are going to use government laws of their barometer for what is right and wrong, stop using crypto right now and return to fiat.
There’s plenty to speculate about Ross Ulbricht. The murder for hire trope is tossed around loosely and rarely followed up upon (charges were dropped). That he was something of a monster fits well with the overall storyline, but it is not true. Click over to FreeRoss.org, and have a look around. Obviously, it’s a site keen on defending him, but at least readers know that going-in and can account for bias. Agents involved in his arrest and conviction were themselves sent to prison for direct wrongdoing in his case—and that’s just one twist rarely given attention.
He’s a compelling fellow, and at worst he provided an online market where people were able to meet in relatively safety. He’s now serving a double-life sentence without the possibility of parole. From my understanding, his appeals and legal challenges have exhausted all the way through a U.S. Supreme Court remand. That part of the case appears to be over.
As a last ditch effort his mother and supporters launched at Change.org petition, asking President Trump to grant Ross Ulbricht clemency. Online signatures recently passed 100,000 thousand, and more can only mean better. For all his perceived ills, Trump has shown a remarkable sensitivity to a few incarcerated cases and a willingness to act. Crazier things have happened.
He’s crypto’s first real martyr. Lay the facts out for yourself. Chew them over. The realization of what he’s suffering versus the crimes committed do not mesh. I believe our world would be a much better place if Ross Ulbricht was out of prison and allowed to create and build with us. It’s only a digital signature, and won’t take long. It’s a small gesture that could lead to a man’s life being spared. Thanks for even considering.
Edward Kelso is a financial technology journalist based in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter.
Note: Tokens on the Bitcoin Core (segwit) Chain are Referred to as BTC coins. Bitcoin Cash (BCH) is today the only Bitcoin implementation that follows Satoshi Nakamoto’s original whitepaper for Peer to Peer Electronic Cash. Bitcoin BCH is the only major public blockchain that maintains the original vision for Bitcoin as fast, frictionless, electronic cash.
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When cryptocurrency first really started to become a household word around the globe, it was immediately assigned a dark stigma due to the media’s infatuation with Silk Road, the black market that was facilitated through the use of cryptocurrency. This connection made many erroneously believe that crypto and illegal activity were intrinsically intertwined and prevented crypto adoption at the levels that should have been seen. Although the cryptocurrency community has fought hard to release the Silk Road binds, the introduction of the DSV OP_Code could possibly cause a resurgence in negative opinions of digital currency.
A week ago, Dr. Craig Wright of nChain appropriately pointed out, “Adoption didn’t happen because of Silk Road. If you looked at other centralized coins that happened in the 90s and things like this within the first three years, you actually had banks starting to use them; Deutsche Bank was using DigiCash, others were using it. So Silk Road actually killed adoption in Bitcoin. Right now, we would be in a world with probably 500 million people using Bitcoin at least on a daily basis if it wasn’t for Silk Road.”
Bitcoin BCH was created, in part, because a growing number of crypto enthusiasts, developers, proponents and visionaries realized that, for a cryptocurrency to function properly, it cannot be entirely anonymous, a trait that has been available with other cryptocurrencies and which allowed Silk Road to flourish. They rightfully support the belief that cryptocurrency can be private and not anonymous at the same time, which will lead to BCH being accepted more easily by regulators.
DSV reverses this position and can turn BCH into a blockchain that supports complete anonymity. It removes all legal protections a cryptocurrency could afford and revives the almost buried misconception of crypto being good for nothing more than illicit activity.
Roger Ver of Bitcoin.com totally supports DSV, as does Jihan Wu of crypto mining equipment manufacturer Bitmain. Their ability to push for what can only be described as an anarchist implementation of a blockchain has to make people wonder what ulterior motives are behind their position.
Silk Road was inarguably the go-to forum for illegal activity – that much has been confirmed. Ross Ulbricht, founder of Silk Road, has already been put away for his actions, sentenced to a life in prison in 2015 (he was actually given two life terms with no possibility of parole). More recently, James Ellingson was arrested in Canada on warrants for drug dealing and being a hitman for hire. All of his activity had been conducted on Silk Road and it is reported that Ulbricht once hired him to take out someone, but this has never been confirmed.
Given that DSV will introduce anonymity into BCH, the move is extremely concerning. Does the BCH community really want a blockchain that can be used for arranging murders and selling drugs? I hope not.