Short answer: They can’t
(Unless they’re in a hot wallet on an exchange within Canadian jurisdiction).
I’m seeing references and hearing anecdotally how the Canadian government froze or even seized crypto wallets associated with the #FreedomConvoy fundraising efforts. Including the sensational headline from Fortune magazine’s “Fed up Ottawa residents win secret suit to freeze the crypto wallets funding Canada’s ‘Freedom Convoy’ protesters“.
…fed up residents
… “Freedom Convoy Protestors” in scare quotes
The article refers to a Mareva Injunction issued by the Ontario Superior Court against the convoy organizers (Dichter, Lich, Barber), Pat King (the convoy crasher in my book), several people who were involved in the Tallycoin fundraiser for the truckers, and then numerous John Doe’s. It orders that 134 crypto wallets be frozen, such that nobody remotely involved with them can basically move or cause to be moved any of the funds in those wallets.
Further, it orders that any wallet that receives funds from any of these wallets also be frozen. Technically that means if somebody were to move a single satoshi to Coinbase, Kraken, Binance, BitBuy, etc – then the receiving hot wallets of those exchanges are technically “frozen” as well.
This isn’t really tenable, and this issue has actually come up before within the context of Bitcoin mining and OFAC compliance. There was a time when Marathon Digital actually tried to create an initiative where they would only mine “fully AML and OFAC compliant” derived blocks. This would have essentially required the censoring Bitcoin transactions and was widely scorned by the industry. It proved itself to be unworkable, with Marathon scrapping the program almost immediately. (It is also worth noting here that according to blockchain analytics firm Chainalysis, which consults for numerous law enforcement and intelligence agencies, only 0.5% of all Bitcoin transactions are illicit in nature).
Trying to enforce a “taint chain” on specific crypto addresses would run into similar problems to the point where the choice would simply be to shutdown Bitcoin entirely (not possible) or give up.
The order also says
“Any other person who knows of this order and does anything which helps or permits the Defendant to breach the terms of this Order may also be held to be in contempt of court and may be fined or imprisoned. “
Let’s stress for the record that we are not advising nor condoning anyone subject to the order should violate it (but should preferably, at this stage, contest it in court).
The simple reality, which we’d argue is protected as free speech is this: no government can actually seize or freeze anything stored in any self-custody wallet, full stop. In fact, nobody can actually “help or permit” the defendants to breach the terms of the order, because only those who hold the private keys to the specified wallets are in a position to do so.
The courts can issue orders and the government can issue decrees forbidding any entity under their jurisdiction from allowing transfers into or out of those addresses – that’s what they mean by “freezing” wallets.
But the reality is that none of these wallets are actually frozen. Not in the same sense of when a bank freezes your account. I would argue that the more accurate way to describe those wallets would be as “restricted”, not frozen.
In crypto, those wallet holders can still move those Bitcoin to any other BTC address, but probably not one that has already been created and in a FINTRAC regulated exchange. Most of the news items mention 34 or, these 134 or sometimes 200+ crypto addresses.
There are a possible
BTC addresses, enough for every individual inhabitant of Earth to have
addresses for their own use.
But some say “Bitcoin is not anonymous, the ledger is trackable”. Which is true (at least as long as a given asset stays on the same chain). What I usually say about this hits upon one of my favourite aspects of Bitcoin. It may be true that funds can be tracked throughout the blockchain, but there isn’t a damn thing anybody can do about it.
Further, there is an entire universe, a “cryptoverse”, that is constructed of innumerable nodes and entities that don’t even reside within Cartesian reality, let alone the legal jurisdiction of the Ontario Superior Court. (One of the key tenets of our Crypto Capitalist Manifesto is that, in general terms, increasing amounts of wealth moving into the cryptoverse is one-way, there is no intention of it ever coming back out into fiat).
Within this cryptoverse, these nodes can take the form of:
- Non-FINTRAC regulated exchanges
- Decentralized exchanges (DEX)
- Peer-to-peer exchanges
- Alternate Layer-1 blockchains, Layer 2 protocols and wrapped assets
- Decentralized Finance (DeFi) apps, automated market makers and liquidity pools
- Bridges between any and all of these
There’s nothing anybody can do about the explosion in number and complexity of all these crypto things, and attempts to similarly “freeze”, “seize” or shutdown every address traversed of some asset you’re trying to trace through all this would mean somehow taking control over centralized exchanges (some of them very large, with legal teams) in other countries, or decentralized entities, some which don’t effectively possess legal personhood but are some sort of Decentralized Autonomous Organization (DAO).
The Mareva order does explicitly order several named entities (many of them well outside the jurisdiction of the Province of Ontario) to
otherwise prevent any removal, dissipation, alienation, transfer, assignment, encumbrance, transaction, or similar dealing with any of the assets identified in Schedule “A” to this Order.
One of which is PancakeSwap, which is one of those decentralized DAOs I was just talking about. PancakeSwap isn’t an entity that can be readily subjected to a court order, it’s a smart contract.
To be clear: I am not advocating that anyone knowingly violates a court order to which they are a subject. I’m pointing out that the government can only order wallet holders not to move funds, but that the government cannot actually, freeze let alone seize what’s in those wallets. (Technically speaking the only thing in the wallets are the private keys anyway. The cryptocurrency itself is all on the blockchain).
In a period of extreme financial turmoil such as a bank run or currency collapse where governments may be imploding while issuing all manner of orders and emergency edicts in desperation, wallet holders can be secure in the knowledge that they will still have the ability to execute capital flight even if the traditional banking sector and payment sectors are suffering extreme dislocations and breaking down.
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I recently heard that JP Morgan was able to deny Venezuelan MetaMask users access to funds because they own part of the wallet architecture Any truth to that?
I heard about the Metamask thing and meant to look into it, probably should have addressed that in a piece like this.
It is true Metamask limited its use in Venezuela.
But again, that would only impact using the Metamask wallet, not the assets on-chain.
You should still be able to take your seed phrase and import your keys into some other wallet and still have access to your assets.
"You should still be able to take your seed phrase and import your keys into some other wallet and still have access to your assets."
I'm just jumping in to say that you absolutely can put on on other wallets and do that.
I did not realize that metamask had centralized control. Good to know.
Wanted to add, users can also compile metamask from source and remove any of these blocks.
Yeah I was wondering about that too
Yeah, this type of stuff is to be expected of every single crypto/defi protocol/app that has a incorporated team behind developing it in any jurisdiction (basically incorporating in any jurisdiction is like a big “please fuck me, ill make it easy for you”-sign for nation state actors). I don’t even bother looking at dApps if they aren’t even open source because of this risk.
Ideally, in the long term, alot of the incorporated teams (alot of these vc funded prototocols) will get washed out in infinite regulatory hell, while the DAO’s and anons push things forward (modulo nation state adoption and acceptance of permissionless and censorship resistant money).