What Coin Center believes in, and what we do

The full text of Executive Director Jerry Brito’s remarks at the Coin Center Annual Dinner.

Last week, Coin Center held its annual dinner alongside the Consensus 2016 conference in NYC. With over 250 attendees, it was a smashing success. Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures and Congressman Mick Mulvaney gave keynote talks. Fred published his very uplifting talk on his blog and he’s inspired me to do the same with the short speech I gave at the dinner.

Coin Center has been operating for almost two years, yet I think there are many in the community who still don’t understand exactly what we do. This is because so much of what we do–mostly conversations and consultations with policymakers–is not public. So I wanted to take the opportunity my talk presented to explain clearly what is Coin Center, what we believe in, and we fight for every day. The full speech is below.

Thank you all for coming out tonight to support Coin Center and the work that we do to make sure that governments don’t harm this technology in their attempts to regulate it.

As a small nonprofit, we can’t do this work without your help, and I want to especially thank our supporters here tonight, including itBit, BitFury Group, Blockchain, Union Square Ventures, 21, BitPay, BitStamp, Digital Currency Group, Genesis Trading, and Grayscale, Gem, Ledger, Netki, OKCoin, Overstock.com, Xapo, Onename, Ribbit Capital, Suhas Daftuar, and of course, Alex Morcos, without who none of this would be possible.

And a big special thank you to our dinner sponsors: Perkins Coie, BitFury, Steptoe & Johnson, Digital Currency Group, itBit, Shapeshift, Blockchain, Bloq, and Circle. Thanks for making this possible.

I also want to say how honored we are to have Fred Wilson and Congressman Mick Mulvaney with us today. They are two great champions of cryptocurrency and I can’t wait to hear their remarks later.

As you know, Coin Center is the only organization in the US dedicated exclusively to the policy and regulatory issues affecting open permissionless decentralized-cryptocurrency networks and decentralized-computing platforms like Bitcoin and Ethereum.

These are global, open networks that aren’t owned by anyone and that anyone can use—just like the Internet itself. This permisionlessness, driven by decentralization, is what allows tinkerers and entrepreneurs of any size and from anywhere to experiment and build unexpected innovations that bring prosperity to billions.

That same decentralization, however, makes these networks difficult, if not impossible, to control. And just like the Internet itself, that loss of control can threaten governments.

That’s why in the history of the Internet we’ve seen many attempts by governments to exert control. We’ve seen attempts to ban encryption, attempts to censor speech in the name of decency or protecting intellectual property, attempts to force companies to spy on their users.

At each point we have been very lucky to have amazing champions fighting against these threats to our liberty. Independent nonprofits—like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology—who do not represent industry, aren’t looking out for any particular group or business model—but who exist to make sure that the Internet remains free, open, permissionless, and decentralized, for the benefit of everyone.

Networks like Bitcoin are as decentralized as the Internet, so they will face similar attempts at control. And these networks are just as unowned as the Internet, so they need independent champions to take on these threats head on. That is Coin Center’s reason for being, and we take it very seriously.

Now, like with the Internet, government intervention is unavoidable. And it’s certainly unavoidable when you’re talking about networks that deal in financial assets. Governments have an interest in imposing consumer protection rules and financial surveillance requirements. Since they can’t regulate the decentralized technology directly, they regulate the companies and users of these networks.

Personally, I believe this technology is unstoppable. As the kids like to say, you can’t regulate math. But regulations can seriously hamper the businesses that drive the growth of this technology and these networks—the exchanges and payment processors and infrastructure providers. And I for one would like to see this technology succeed and reach as many people as possible as soon as possible. So we have to engage with government to do the best we can to make sure the regulations they enact do as little harm as possible.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned working in technology policy for over ten years, it’s that so much of what can go wrong with policy and regulation affecting technology does not stem from malice, but from ignorance.

If policymakers don’t understand that a multisig provider can’t possibly lose your funds, then those providers might get regulated like banks. If policymakers don’t understand that wallet services are simply providing software, then they might try to impose anti-money-laundering requirements on them.

This is why a big part of what we do is simply education.

In the short time we have been operating, we have published dozens of plain-language backgrounders for policymakers, and have had almost 200 individual meetings and one-on-one briefings with federal and state regulators, legislators, and their staffs. We hold open briefings for hundreds of Capitol Hill staffers on a regular basis, and we participate at educational events at the Brookings Institution, the Council on Foreign Relations, the World Bank, and other venues that matter to policymakers. And our standing as the leading trusted and credible source of information on these topics has grown. Indeed, every single time there has been a hearing in the U.S. Congress about this technology, we have been invited to testify.

Sometimes, though, it takes more than education.

Sometimes, we have to try to change the law, or make sure that a new law being developed is shaped as well as it can be. This is where our policy research and lobbying come in. We develop policy solutions—and often even legislative language—that helps regulators meet their ends while preserving the freedom to innovate, excluding software providers and miners from regulation, and creating exemptions for small startups. And we then take those policy solutions and we lobby hard for them and we get them into law.

Indeed, bills in California and Pennsylvania and the Uniform Law Commission’s model digital currency act all include Coin Center’s ideas and language—and we’re just getting started.

And can I tell you, the people who really deserve the credit for our success are Peter Van Valkenburgh and Robin Weisman—the brains and the heart of Coin Center—as well as Neeraj Agrawal and Antonie Hodge—the brawn that gets this done. Can we give them a round of applause?

As we all do our work—building businesses or technologies or advocating for good law—it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day. So it’s good every once in a while to take a moment and reflect on why we do what we do—why we believe this technology is so important—why we’ve devoted our life’s work to it.

For me and the Coin Center team, it’s Bitcoin’s censorship-resistance—it’s promise to empower individuals—that gets us out of bed every morning.

I recently met a woman from Venezuela who told me she’d discovered that several people in her family are using Bitcoin. The Venezuelan Bolivar today is worthless and worth less every minute and people in Venezuela are not only looking to save in bitcoin, they are increasingly looking to get paid for their labor in bitcoin. To a government like Venezuela’s, this is dangerous, which is probably why they recently jailed two men for the crime of mining bitcoin.

This is a horrible violation of human rights—and one I hope the community pays more attention to—but it also highlights a happy truth that we know: this technology empowers individuals to take control of their own lives, and no matter how many are jailed, this idea can’t be killed.

Thank you.