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Richard M Stallman: bitcoin is not anonymous – that’s not part of its design.

Richard M Stallman, the father of the Free Software movement and president of the Free Software Foundation, has aired his opinion that bitcoin is not as anonymous as we would think of them to be. In an interview with Russia’s leading television channel RT (Russia Today), Stallman (popularly known as RMS) said bitoins are not anonymous by design and while a user doesn’t give our her/his name for a transaction that doesn’t mean governments can’t figure it out.

“I have to point out that bitcoin is not anonymous – that’s not part of its design. People don’t necessarily give their names when they do bitcoin transactions, but the government can probably figure out, who is doing the transaction. How are you going to get bitcoins after all, unless you set up a bitcoin money computer, which is how bitcoins are made, you are going to get them by buying them from someone. If you are an ordinary person, the way you could do it is by paying with a credit card to a company that will exchange government currency for bitcoins. The credit card identifies you, so when you get bitcoins in return, the government can see who you are.”

He said the we need a system where a website can receive a payment from an anonymous user. “But it’s the payer that has to be anonymous; it doesn’t have to be anonymous for which website received the payment.”

He said that we now have the technology to do this all that’s needed is a business model around it so it can be used widely.

RMS praised bitcoin as it allows people to make transactions without getting ‘permission’ from any company to user their own money, “One good thing about bitcoin is, you can send money to someone without getting the permission of a payment company. So for instance, if you want to support WikiLeaks – which is very good thing, and which the US government doesn’t want to let people support  – and has used extrajudicial means to chase off the Internet partially – well, with bitcoin you can do it.”

However he could also see the other side of the coin. He says that bitcoin also creates an opportunity for misuse such as tax evasion, “…there is a potential problem with bitcoin, which is, it might get used for tax evasion. I’m not in favor of tax evasion, but we have to realize that the biggest and most harmful cases of tax evasion are lawful. Governments don’t dare make businesses pay the sort of taxes that they ought to and they wouldn’t dare make rich people pay the taxes that they ought to. And thus, if we really want to put an end to tax dodging, we really need to change the tax laws so that businesses can’t offshore their profits. Now, we’re speaking from London, and as we know, there were big protests against the offshoring of profits that the UK government doesn’t have the courage to stop.”

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As bitcoin becomes more valuable, it soared above $1,200 mark, getting neck to neck with gold, governments and companies will be trying to figure out how to ‘mine’ its misuse.

Swapnil Bhartiya

A free software fund-a-mental-ist and Charles Bukowski fan, Swapnil also writes fiction and tries to find cracks in the paper armours of proprietary companies. Swapnil has been covering Linux and Free Software/Open Source since 2005.

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