An anonymous reader quotes a report from Wired: Hamas’ attacks against Israel on October 7 have shifted the geopolitical landscape and triggered a looming Israeli ground assault in the Gaza Strip. Now the ripple effects are reaching the cryptocurrency industry, where they’ve become the United States Department of the Treasury’s rallying cry for a crackdown on cryptocurrency anonymity services. The US Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) [on October 19th] released a set of proposed rules that would designate foreign cryptocurrency “mixers” — services that blend users’ digital funds to offer more anonymity and make them harder to trace — as money laundering tools that pose a threat to national security and would thus face new sanctions and regulations. The new rules, if adopted following a 90-day period of public comment and debate, would potentially represent the broadest restrictions imposed yet on the mixing services and could make it far harder for cryptocurrency holders to put their money through the services before cashing it out at a US cryptocurrency exchange, or even at a foreign exchange that accepts US customers.
While the proposed rules were almost certainly in the works long before October 7, the Treasury’s announcement tied the push for a change in policy directly to the use of cryptocurrency by Hamas and militant groups in Gaza. “The Treasury Department is aggressively combatting illicit use of all aspects of the CVC ecosystem by terrorist groups,” Wally Adeyemo, deputy secretary of the Treasury, wrote in a statement, using the term “CVC” to mean convertible virtual currency. Adeyemo says that this includes Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a militant group that often aligns with Hamas, which Israel blamed for an explosion at a hospital in Gaza earlier this week.
Cryptocurrency mixers have existed almost as long as Bitcoin itself. They offer to take in a user’s cryptocurrency, blend it with that of other users, and return the funds so that they are harder to follow from their origin to destination on blockchains, which generally record every transaction in full public view. The Treasury’s rule change would designate those cryptocurrency-mixing services — or at least the majority of them that are based outside the US — as a “primary money laundering concern.” They would thus be considered a threat to US national security as defined by section 311 of the Patriot Act, a section of the law designed to restrict how domestic financial institutions interact with potential sources of terrorist financing. The rule change would mean that US financial services, as well foreign ones with US customers — including cryptocurrency exchanges — would have to go through extra record-keeping and reporting requirements for funds that have touched a foreign cryptocurrency mixer, and it might even allow the Treasury to block US exchanges from handling those funds. “Weâ(TM)ve never seen anything like this before,” says Ari Redbord, the head of global policy for TRM Labs, a blockchain analysis firm. Redbord notes that the rule change isnâ(TM)t proposing a blanket ban on foreign mixing services, only new rules for interacting with them. “The reality, however, is that 311 actions oftentimes have a sort of name-and-shame effect, where people are just not wanting to engage with these platforms out of fear of being caught up in money laundering or other type of illicit activity.”
“I think the challenge for regulators is, how do we thread the needle between stopping illicit actors from using these platforms but at the same time allow regular users to enable some degree of privacy?” Redbord added. “I think the concern is that this could very much be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”