Is Code Speech? A Cryptocurrency Case That Could Reshape the Internet
The Boston Globe6 days ago
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Is Code Speech? A Cryptocurrency Case That Could Reshape the Internet

TornadoCash
FirstAmendment
Code
Privacy
Cryptocurrency

Summary:

  • Roman Storm, creator of Tornado Cash, faces charges of money laundering and violating US sanctions.

  • The case revolves around the question of whether computer code is protected speech under the First Amendment.

  • Prosecutors argue that Storm's actions in creating Tornado Cash constitute criminal conduct, not speech.

  • Storm's defense claims that code is similar to speech, drawing on past court rulings that recognized software as a form of expression.

  • The key issue is the functional aspect of code: while code can be expressive, it also serves a specific function, in this case anonymizing cryptocurrency transactions.

  • A conviction could create a precedent where developers are held responsible for the actions of others who use their software, even if unintentional.

The Tornado Cash Case: Code, Privacy, and the First Amendment

Roman Storm, a creator of the privacy-focused cryptocurrency mixer Tornado Cash, faces up to 45 years in prison for his alleged role in facilitating money laundering by North Korean hackers. The case raises a fundamental question: is computer code protected speech under the First Amendment?

The Debate Over Code as Speech

The US government argues that Storm's actions, by creating and publishing Tornado Cash, constitute criminal conduct, not protected speech. However, Storm's defense team claims that code is akin to speech, citing previous court decisions that recognized software as a form of expression.

The core of the debate centers on the functional aspect of code. While code can be expressive, it also serves a function – instructing computers to perform tasks. In the case of Tornado Cash, the code anonymizes cryptocurrency transactions, allowing for both legitimate uses (e.g., anonymous donations) and illicit ones (e.g., money laundering).

The Implications of Criminalizing Code Development

If Storm is convicted, it could have far-reaching implications for the development and use of software in the US. It could potentially establish a precedent where developers can be held criminally liable for the actions of others who use their software, even if the developers did not intend for those actions to occur.

Beyond Code: The Future of the Internet

This case isn't just about Tornado Cash. It raises broader questions about the regulation of software in an increasingly decentralized internet. As software becomes more complex, autonomous, and integrated into our lives, we must grapple with the challenges of balancing security, privacy, and freedom of expression.

The outcome of Storm's trial could have a significant impact on the future of the internet, shaping the legal landscape for software development and the role of technology in our society.

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