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Human Rights Foundation Funding Bitcoin Privacy Development

Funding Bitcoin Privacy

July 5, 2020 | 

2469 Views | 

Dan Mitchell | 

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The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) has launched a grant program called the ‘Bitcoin Developer Fund’ to support developers working towards the mutual goals of achieving privacy and anonymity of transaction data on the Bitcoin network to support activists who use the platform to send or receive donations. 

So why exactly has the HRF introduced this program, and why do many people consider this movement to be somewhat controversial?

What is the Human Rights Foundation?

The HRF is a non-profit organisation which was founded in 2015 and is headquartered in New York City. It claims to “partner with world-changing activists in creating innovative solutions to unite the world against tyranny” and operates on a global scale.

Key members of the HRF include Russian chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov, the incumbent chairman. Additionally, the foundation is financially backed by a cast of all-star donors including actor Kelsey Grammer, prominent tech investor Peter Thiel, and DNC treasurer Andrew Tobias.

Among the HRF’s campaigns are ‘Celebrities & Dictators’, which aims to highlight instances in which celebrities perform for dictators (think US basketball player Dennis Rodman and his relationship with Kim Jong Un). Another initiative is ‘Flash Drives for Freedom’, which helps to “[smuggle] outside information into North Korea on donated USB drives.”

Bitcoin Development Fund

On June 10, 2020: the Human Rights Foundations (HRF) announced the launch of its ‘Bitcoin Development Fund’. Part of its initiative of making Bitcoin “a better tool for freedom”. 

Bitcoin Development Fund was created by the HRF to provide financial support to software developers who are working towards “making the Bitcoin network more private, decentralized, and resilient so that it can better serve as a financial tool for human rights activists, civil society organizations, and journalists around the world.”

The HRF accepts donations to this fund in USD as well as BTC (via BTCPay server).
HRF claims that, as of June 23, it has received $29,771 in funding from 22 donors to its Bitcoin Developer Fund.

First Recipient = CoinSwap

The first action of this fund was the award of a $50,000 grant to Chris Belcher. Belcher is a developer based in the UK and is working on ‘CoinSwap’, a Bitcoin mixing technology which was created by Greg Maxwell back in 2013.

Bitcoin, or cryptocurrency. mixing is a non-custodial method which enables users to obfuscate the origin and destination of funds on each side of the ‘mixing’. It Ensures privacy and anonymity for both sender and recipient.

According to the HRF, mixers such as CoinSwap help to “defeat state and corporate financial surveillance by making it much harder for authorities to trace Bitcoin transactions”.

This may be particularly useful in situations such as the ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong against the recently imposed, highly controversial security laws imposed by China.

It is fair to say that the cryptocurrency community, particularly concerning Bitcoin, is heavily split between those in favour of greater anonymity and privacy; and those who believe these goals are antithetical to achieving safety and law/order.

The reason for this is the prevalent use and appeal of bitcoin mixing in particular to bad actors such as hackers and other fraudsters seeking to (essentially) launder their crypto funds.

As such: many have commented on the political and potentially controversial nature of this decision, with it constituting a conscious move to one side of an ongoing Bitcoin privacy debate.

According to the Human Rights Foundation’s chief strategy officer Alex Gladstein, the

“HRF is pleased to support Chris in his quest to make Bitcoin more usably private… Human rights defenders and reporters around the world face increasing financial repression in the form of frozen bank accounts, restrictions on foreign funding, payment surveillance, and general difficulty in earning income or receiving donations.

"Bitcoin can be a powerful tool for them to use moving forward alongside encrypted messaging apps like Signal and projects like Tor Browser and SecureDrop.

At the moment, the Bitcoin network is improving but is far from as usable and private as it needs to be with authoritarianism and surveillance on the rise in many countries. With more support, developers like Chris can make it possible for activists to receive donations and continue their important work under increased pressure.”

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