It’s become a recurring theme in many political circles: whenever terrorism is discussed, it’s usually just a matter of time before Bitcoin is dragged into the discussion. That pattern repeated itself again this week in the Australian House of Representatives, when opposition leader Bill Shorten decided to include commentary on the world’s most well-known digital currency while talking about terrorism, terror financing, and encryption technology.
In his remarks on Bitcoin, Shorten noted that, “There are two things we simply do not know enough about to deal with properly—I refer to the use of the digital currency bitcoin and the use of the dark web, a network of untraceable online activities and hidden websites, allowing those who wish to stay in the shadows to remain hidden. Terrorists are increasingly using this network to avoid detection, conduct planning and acquire capability and tools to carry out their evil actions.”
“We must target this threat head on. As terrorists adapt their methods and seek to hide online, we must ensure our agencies have the tools, resources and technology so terrorism has no place to hide. Likewise, we need to track and target terrorists as they seek to hide and obscure their financial dealings through electronic currencies like bitcoin.”
While some have focused on Shorten’s admission that he knows little about either Bitcoin or the dark web – an admission that is somewhat refreshing, given politicians’ habit of opining on matters about which they know very little, others have emphasized the false assumptions inherent in his remarks. Shorten is not the first to insinuate that Bitcoin is an untraceable funding option for terrorists, of course. But like everyone who’s made similar comments before him, he’s wrong.
As most Bitcoin users know, the coin’s transactions all take place in the open with far greater transparency than most exchanges of fiat currency. More importantly, many in law enforcement acknowledge that most digital currency transactions can be tracked. Danish authorities, for example, claimed earlier in the year to have developed new tools to facilitate those tracking efforts – tools that they say have led to several drug convictions.
Unfortunately, Shorten’s comments come during a time when Australians are engaged in a heated debate over the issue of encryption. Many have called for measures similar to those found in the UK’s Investigatory Powers Act, which could see social media firms and device manufacturers enlisted to assist the government in their efforts to root out questionable internet content and crack encrypted technology.
Politicians would best serve the public interest by learning more about digital currencies like Bitcoin before they try to include them in that debate.