Bitcoin has come a long way since its pseudonymous founder warned against people sending the nascent digital currency to the notorious data leaker WikiLeaks. “WikiLeaks has kicked the hornet's nest, and the swarm is headed towards us,” Satoshi Nakamoto said on the Bitcointalk forum. It was his or her or their last public message before stepping away from the project.
Cut off from its banking account and other crowdfunding platforms, WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange put out a call for BTC donations. This was precisely the type of situation for which Bitcoin was invented. A distributed financial network, Bitcoin enables people to transact a digital asset without divulging personal information and without the possibility of financial censorship.
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The Bitcoin network does what it’s supposed to do – this much is made clear by the recent fundraising effort to support a convoy of truckers in Canada, who are protesting coronavirus-related restrictions. Whatever Satoshi’s concerns were for the nascent monetary network at the time, they are now certainly resolved.
Monday night, crowdfund organizers behind “HonkHonkHodl” announced they surpassed their goal of raising 21 BTC for the Ottawa Freedom Truckers Convoy. Donations are still coming in on the crowdfunding platform Tallycoin and are approaching the $1 million mark. Some 5,511 donors contributed, including the founder of the crypto exchange Kraken, Jesse Powell. To date, the two biggest donations, totalling more than $300,000, were made anonymously.
To some extent, today’s convoy faces a much tougher situation than WikiLeaks. The Canadian government has temporarily broadened the scope of its anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorist financing rules to stymie donations (including crypto) to the protestors.
On Monday, after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau enacted the never-used “Emergencies Act,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said banks are allowed to freeze accounts related to the protestors without a court order and will be shielded from lawsuits for acting “in good faith.” Canada's Toronto-Dominion Bank had already started freezing accounts, reportedly.
“If your truck is used in these blockades, your corporate accounts will be frozen. The insurance on your vehicle will be suspended. Send your rigs home,” Freeland, a former senior editor at the Financial Times, told Freedom Convoy members. “Consider yourself warned.”
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Bitcoin facilitates cross-border transactions that cannot be intercepted by corporations, the police or other institutional bodies. The initial call for crypto donations was made after centralized crowdfunding platform GoFundMe closed an account that had raised over $7 million, citing “violence and other unlawful activity” during the demonstrations.
(Meanwhile, last night, alternative crowdfunding site GiveSendGo announced it suffered a data breach that exposed “gigabytes of data about donors to the Freedom Convoy, including photos and passport scans,” according to The Verge.)
Still, questions remain. For instance, what is the best means of distributing bitcoin to protestors? Could donors or receivers face criminal liability for financially backing this controversial protest? Could the crowdfund’s organizers take the bitcoin and run?
“Your support for this mission has been incredible and these courageous truckers deserve every sat [satoshi, a unit of bitcoin] for the sacrifice they have made to hold the line in Ottawa,” said the people behind Bitcoin Stoa, which is facilitating the donations and keeping a regular diary of the protests, said in a blog update Monday night.
The donated funds are intended to pay for “immediate needs including food, hotel rooms, legal aid and fuel.” But there’s no apparent plan for how to actually get bitcoin (or the equivalent amounts converted to Canadian dollars) into truckers’ hands. Organizers said they are considering credit card payments, e-transfers, direct bank deposits and gift cards, depending on truckers’ “wishes.” The site also suggests handing out Opendime hardware wallets – “although no decisions have been made,” the site reads.
“Bitcoin funds are secure and our plan is to distribute all funds to truckers by end of week P2P [peer-to-peer] on the ground in Ottawa. Stay tuned for more details (re: transparency and verifiability) when this is completed,” the Bitcoin Stoa site reads.
The promise of later “transparency and verifiability” comes at the cost of confusion and opacity today. “For security reasons, we found it to be important that the key holders are not publicly identifiable,” Bitcoin Stoa wrote, citing “points of failure” and potential “coercion.”
The “fundraising committee” said they are “currently aggregating funds from the various wallets that have been created since the beginning.” An “interim [two-thirds] multisig wallet” was set up that will be managed by “reputable bitcoiners and a director of the freedom convoy nonprofit corp registered in Canada,” called the “Freedom 2022 Human Rights and Freedoms.”
See also: Crypto: The Gift That Keeps On Giving (to Charity) | The Node
“Hardware,” such as cold storage wallets, is also in transit and “once it arrives” a “board of directors” will initiate a “5/7 multisig wallet” to store the funds “until they are distributed to truckers or needed to cover emergency expenses including legal protection.”
Some bitcoiners have followed their own track to get donations directly to people, thereby bypassing Bitcoin for Truckers. Some took to Twitter to ask for names of protestors they could send sats to directly – a viable option for the P2P Bitcoin network – but one that may not scale.
Then there’s the fact that not all Canadians are happy about the protests. After weeks, the 35,000-50,000 truck convoy (reportedly the longest in history) is beginning to affect the economy by blocking the busiest passway between Canada and the U.S. At least one Canadian I know is dismayed as foreign money (not just bitcoin) “pours into a fringe movement that is intent on imposing its will on the rest of the country.”
Bitcoin, being a value-agnostic technological solution for digital payments, does not care about the larger societal debate playing out around this issue. Publications like Bitcoin Magazine are happy to print stories showing how bitcoin is funding a movement of “freedom-minded folks” upholding “their natural and legal rights.”
But people are not machines – no matter the “game theory” behind their case, or how “decentralized” the movement may be. Bitcoin has solved the issue of how to send money anywhere at any time – but it seems like humans, for now, are still the “last mile” concern.