US senators seek input on their cryptocurrency law via GitHub – and get some

Those town hall meetings that go off the rails? That's the internet all day, every day

The two US senators behind a proposed law to bring order to cryptocurrency finance have published their legislation to Microsoft's GitHub to obtain input from the unruly public.

The bill, known as the Responsible Financial Innovation Act, was introduced by Senators Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on June 7 to create a regulatory framework governing digital assets, cryptocurrencies, and blockchain technology.

It has been welcomed by the Stellar Development Foundation and cryptocurrency trade group the Chamber of Digital Commerce, a sign that the legislation doesn't ask much of those it would regulate.

And its sponsors now want the people on the internet to take a stab at refining the bill's language.

"The digital asset industry was built by individuals and will continue to be sustained by individuals," said Senator Lummis, via Twitter on Wednesday. "That's why @SenGillibrand and I want input from the grassroots. If you have constructive thoughts on our legislation, make your voice heard on GitHub."

By Thursday, Lummis, sometimes referred to as the senator from HODL to reflect her commitment to Bitcoin, tried to broaden the potential pool of commenters, perhaps aware that those familiar with GitHub are likely to represent a fairly narrow group of technical folk.

"Point of clarification: if you do not self-identify as a pleb, don’t be deterred," she said, using another term for Bitcoin supporters. "Comments are open to all, plebs, non-plebs, no-coiners and neophytes. We want to hear from everybody who has a constructive comment to share. But pls pls, pretty please keep it civil and germane."

Some thoughtful advice can be found among the 81 Issues (42 open, 39 closed) and 16 pull requests submitted at the time this story was published, but much of the wisdom of the crowd amounts to trolling, like a pull request that proposes a rewrite of the bill as a story about a bee.

There are also more substantive critiques, like Issue #37 from Karan Goel, a software engineer at Google, who asked Lummis to explain conflicting statements about personally holding Bitcoin and also holding it in a blind trust – personally controlling Bitcoin assets while drafting a law to regulate Bitcoin looks a lot like a conflict of interest. That GitHub Issue was promptly closed.

Another, Issue #95, titled "I would never have expected the government to support pyramid schemes, but alas, here we are," got closed due to the existence of a similar open Issue #9, "Ban crypto since its [sic] a pyramid scheme." Issue #30, "This bill is missing a provision to jail all crypto businesspeople, scammers, and cult leaders," has also been closed.

Then there's Issue #19, "Crypto is a ticking time bomb," from Chris Shaffer, president of New York-based software consultancy Scout Corp, and the former CTO of a blockchain firm.

"'Blockchain' is nothing but a buzzword that exists to confuse lay people into giving their money to charlatans," he wrote, calling for strong regulation. "Its ecosystem is a collection of Rube Goldberg devices designed for the express purpose of making compliance with tax, anti-money laundering, disclosure, liability, and other laws difficult if not impossible. Full stop. There is no baby to throw out with this bath water."

Issue #119, by computer scientist ​​Phillip Hallam-Baker, questioned the choice of GitHub as an appropriate forum, for its technical limitations and for the type of audience it attracts.

"'Crypto-currencies' are not a technology issue, it is a financial issue," he wrote. "Casting the issue as primarily technical and directing the discussion to a technology oriented site invites comment from people whose primary expertise is in technology, most of whom have minimal interest in understanding how financial markets actually operate in practice."

Looking beyond the other snark, there are posts that attempt to make constructive suggestions, like Issue #25, "Prohibit the use of digital assets as backing for stablecoins / 'algorithmic stablecoins'", among others.

Eventually, legislative staffers and lobbyists will rework the language to address the concerns of the financial firms likely to be affected if the bill gets passed and signed into law. Perhaps some campaign donations will follow. The bill's authors are under no obligation to do anything with any of these GitHub posts, but they might just get credit for meeting the techies on their own turf. ®

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