Crypto Firms Say US Sanctions Limit Use of Privacy Software

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Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen speaks at a press conference in July at the Treasury Department. The Treasury Department is facing a pushback from the cryptocurrency industry following sanctions on a firm accused of helping launder billions of dollars. (AP File Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department is facing a pushback from the cryptocurrency industry over sanctions on a firm accused of helping launder billions of dollars — with some funds going to hackers north -Koreans.

Earlier this month, the Treasury Department imposed sanctions on virtual currency mixing company, Tornado Cash, which allegedly helped launder more than $7 billion worth of virtual currency since its inception in 2019.

Mixing services combine various digital assets, including potentially illegally and legitimately obtained funds, to keep the origins of funds secret, including money that has been stolen.

In the weeks since the sanctions were announced, crypto firms, lobbyists and at least one lawmaker have come to the company’s defense, saying the sanctions open the door to limiting the use of software. confidentiality by the Americans.

Coin Center, a nonprofit cryptocurrency advocacy firm, says the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Unit “exceeded its legal authority” through its sanctions, which “potentially violate constitutional due process rights.” and freedom of expression”.

A cryptocurrency company, Tether, said it will not freeze its Tornado Cash-linked accounts and intends to keep them open. And U.S. Representative Tom Emmer, R-Minn., who received at least $50,000 in contributions from the Blockchain Association’s executive director this year, wrote to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last week asking for justification for the Tornado Cash sanction, saying the sanctions “impact not only our national security, but also the privacy rights of every American citizen.”

He told The Associated Press that the sanctions punish Americans who use the company’s software for legitimate purposes. “My government does not have to sanction my ability to use software that protects my anonymity, especially when I use it for legitimate purposes,” he said.

The company’s defense comes as Tornado Cash developer Alexey Pertsev was arrested by Dutch authorities in early August, days after the imposition of US sanctions, for allegedly facilitating money laundering.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control says Tornado Cash’s systems were used to, among other things, launder more than $96 million from the theft of the June Harmony blockchain bridge and the heist of crypto firm Nomad in August.

A Treasury spokesperson said the agency is focused on disrupting criminal behavior and will use its sanctions authorities to protect the US financial system from illicit activities such as cyber theft, money laundering and the financing of the proliferation of weapons.

Kristin Smith, executive director of the Blockchain Association, said the penalties affect law-abiding users of crypto mixing technology.

“If you get paid in cryptocurrency, transactions on most blockchains are transparent,” she said, adding that mixers are used by those who don’t want their transactions visible on a public ledger. .

“I think we need to have a conversation about privacy and holding law enforcement accountable without compromising people’s ability to conduct private transactions,” Smith said.

This is not the first set of sanctions against a digital asset mixing company.

In May, the United States announced sanctions against North Korean digital currency mixing company Blender.io, accused of helping Lazarus Group, the sanctioned North Korean cyber-hacking group, to carry out a theft of 600 million dollars worth of digital currencies in March.

Ever since the Tornado Cash sanctions, crypto experts have been speculating on whether the expected regulations will result in a ban on mixing services.

The Biden administration issued an executive order on digital assets in March that calls, in part, for regulation of the industry.

“It may be the end,” Smith said, “but we won’t know until we see the regulations.”

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