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House Republican concerned about Treasury sanctions on virtual currency mixer

Federal Issues Digital Assets Financial Crimes Department of Treasury Sanctions OFAC Of Interest to Non-US Persons Virtual Currency Cryptocurrency North Korea FinCEN U.S. House

Federal Issues

On August 23, Representative Tom Emmer (R-MN) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen raising privacy and due process concerns related to recent “first-of-their-kind” sanctions issued against a virtual currency mixer accused of allegedly laundering more than $7 billion in virtual currency, including more than $455 million stolen by a Democratic People’s Republic of Korea state-sponsored hacking group that is separately subject to U.S. sanctions (covered by InfoBytes here). The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said the sanctions resulted from the company “having materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, a cyber-enabled activity originating from, or directed by persons located, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States that is reasonably likely to result in, or has materially contributed to, a significant threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the United States and that has the purpose or effect of causing a significant misappropriation of funds or economic resources, trade secrets, personal identifiers, or financial information for commercial or competitive advantage or private financial gain.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)

Emmer stressed, however, that adding the company to OFAC’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons (SDN) List seemed to diverge from previous OFAC precedent since several of the company’s designated “smart contract addresses” do not appear to be a person, entity, or property, but rather are distributed technological tools that are not controlled by any entity or natural person. “OFAC has a long, commendable history of utilizing financial sanctions to enhance the national security of the United States,” the letter said. “Nonetheless, the sanctioning of neutral, open-source, decentralized technology presents a series of new questions, which impact not only our national security but the right to privacy of every American citizen.” Emmer referenced May 2019 guidance issued by FinCEN (covered by InfoBytes here), which he said drew “a distinction between ‘providers of anonymizing services’ (including ‘mixers’)” which are subject to Bank Secrecy Act obligations and “‘anonymizing software providers’” which are not. Emmer recognized that OFAC is not bound by FinCEN regulations, but said it is his understanding that the sanctioned company is “simply the anonymizing software deployed on the blockchain.”

Emmer requested clarification from Treasury on several questions, including the factors OFAC considers when designating technology to the SDN List and how OFAC plans to “uphold the appeals process for the sanctioned addresses that have no ability to appeal the sanction to OFAC” because they “are smart contracts with no agency, corporate or personal, and as such cannot speak for themselves or those whose funds they hold.”

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