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Free Samourai: The deep state's attack on Bitcoin
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Free Samourai: The deep state's attack on Bitcoin

If writing code is a crime, then any expression of speech can be made illegal by the enemies of the First Amendment.

Last month, the United States Department of Justice arrested two men for operating a money-transmitting business utilized, it said, to launder money for criminals in amounts upwards of $100 million. These men are currently being charged by the Southern District of New York, one of whom is already incarcerated on the East Coast of the United States. At the same time, the other was apprehended in Portugal and will likely be extradited imminently. Ok. So what? Presumably, people get arrested all the time for laundering money — why should you care about these two guys? What makes this any different from the run-of-the-mill financial crimes often spotlighted on your favorite true-crime podcast or some NPR bulletin?

Well, these men didn't transfer any money and weren't running a money-transmitting business. Secondly, they weren't using money at all — not in the sense defined by previous precedents in the U.S. court systems. The two men accused were the open-source developers behind a popular Bitcoin wallet called Samourai that simply allows users to coordinate the timing of the publication of their transactions on the Bitcoin blockchain to help obfuscate the revealing of certain payment details when settling on an open ledger. You've most likely heard of Bitcoin by now, with its anonymous creator, Satoshi Nakamoto, and its legion of ardent supporters who can never seem to shut up about it. But what is Bitcoin, and why have regulatory bodies such as the SEC, the CFTC, and the DOJ — not to mention the House and the Senate — continued to bring it up in their discourse about the state of the economy?

Bitcoin is speech. Jailing those who write code that dares to facilitate the exchange of 1s and 0s to update a ledger is an attack on free speech, on everyone and everything this country supposedly stands for.

Bitcoin is a database, decentralized in write permissions and distributed among the node operators spread across the planet. Every Bitcoin transaction is simply an entry inscribed into the most recent state of a ledger, known as the blockchain. Each block is filled with thousands of new data entries, with each transaction consisting of three basic components: an input (where the coin comes from), an output (where the coin is going), and cryptographic signatures that ensure the sender has a claim to the coin being sent. But in reality, nothing is really “sent” at all.

Unlike your checking account, there are no accounts, or even balances, native to Bitcoin. A piece of wallet software written to interact with the Bitcoin network can tally up the coin held by a certain Bitcoin address and make the appearance of an account balance, but it is much more akin to the wallet in your back pocket stuffed full of differing denominations of bills — two 1s, two 5s, a 10, and a 20 — adding up to $42. The major difference, however, is that in spending Bitcoin, you don't physically transfer the bills or coins; you simply sign the spending rights off to another party, updating the state of the Bitcoin ledger with zero items moving peer-to-peer within the eventual settlement. Now, it is important to clarify that when one initiates a new transaction, this string of bits containing the information needed to update the ledger is propagated between nodes, but nowhere within a Bitcoin transaction are “Bitcoins” ever transferred — simply the property rights to future updates on the universal ledger that is the blockchain.

A right to compute


Bitcoin is speech. Bitcoin is code. Bitcoin isn't money, despite its ability to operate as a medium of exchange and a store of value, and it certainly isn't money under the jurisdiction of the United States. The compliance-driven statists within the Bitcoin community will tell you we must ask permission from our local governing offices to embrace Bitcoin to pay our taxes in Bitcoin and service our legal debts. But no matter the lobbyist's efforts to incorporate the protocol into the legacy system of litigation and tax, the Bitcoin protocol is technically — in a literal sense — incapable of transferring criminal proceeds between parties. This framework allows us to conclude that Samourai Wallet did not operate “a money laundering service”; it could not even operate a “by-the-books” money-transmitting business using Bitcoin.

They wrote code: code that users across the globe, within a myriad of legal jurisdictions, utilized to exchange certain alphanumeric strings of data over the internet incapable of doing anything other than updating a spreadsheet. The United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York claims Samourai has executed over “$2 billion in unlawful transactions” while facilitating “more than $100 million in money laundering transactions.” This accusation contains a complete misunderstanding — not to mention a simply unconstitutional reframing — of what a Bitcoin transaction is and how our elected officials should treat it.

Writing code is not a crime. Even when said code was written with the express purpose of enabling the committing of a crime, the criminal action takes place when actualizing said intention, not at the onset of the authoring or even distribution of the code. Code is speech and should be protected as such. Distributing code is an expression between parties of bytes reduced to bits, eventually to ones and zeroes. Any precedent that establishes anything other than this directly violates the First Amendment and, further, is against the should-be-obvious natural code of freedom of expression.

There are PLENTY of ways that Bitcoin the network can spread itself across the globe and how Bitcoin the asset can monetize to astronomical heights without bringing an ounce more freedom to the populace of the world. Bitcoin's definition has been gaslit by the state to be within the purview of the red, white, and blue regulatory moat, and thus, Bitcoin is in dire need of a redefinition. Bitcoin was never about embracing the state and furthering the reach and influence of the elected officials, who were obsessed with changing the definition of speech, expression, code, and numbers. We have spent the last decade sitting back, watching the bookkeepers take their red felt pens and continually change the meaning of words, slowly bringing the frogs — and their dictionaries — to a boil.

A dangerous precedent

If updating a ledger can be reconstituted as a crime, any expression between humans can be labeled as such.

Bitcoin is a tool of empowerment, and Bitcoin is for enemies. Well, now our enemy, the state, is empowered, and its regulatory goons are barking like wolves at the gate. We must stay clever and arm ourselves with the rhetoric needed for the oncoming onslaught against those who dare to build tools that threaten the spellings of the state.

Writing code is not a crime.

Whispering numbers to a loved one cannot be redefined as a criminal act.

Bitcoin is not money but just a ledger.

A database.

Bitcoin is speech. Jailing those who write code that dares to facilitate the exchange of 1s and 0s to update a ledger is an attack on free speech, on everyone and everything this country supposedly stands for.

If you care about free speech, the time is now to stand up and use whatever remaining public squares we have to fight for the right to speak and express. The precedent made downstream of this case will set many of the state's parameters to snuff out wrong-think on the internet.

You don't have to care about Bitcoin; just know that freedom is being extinguished — not just the two young men incarcerated but the freedom to exchange information.

Free Samourai.

Bitcoin Magazine, the most trusted voice in Bitcoin, stands proudly at the forefront of technology and economics, telling the stories and platforming the people using code to liberate humanity from government money. It will be collaborating with Return on a series of articles about Bitcoin and its essential place in the modern world.

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Mark  Goodwin

Mark Goodwin

Editor In Chief at Bitcoin Magazine and Author of The Bitcoin-Dollar
@markgoodw_in →