Friday, June 14, 2019

FATF as in: Facebook As The Foe or Facebook As The Friend ?

Dear Mr Billingslea, dear Members of the FATF and dear civil servants in the room,

As you are nearing the end of a very productive year I wish to commend you on your very hard and wise work of the last year. If we look back on the objectives that the President laid out for 2018-2019 we can see the many accomplishments of this year. It has been a very productive year and one that will be remembered for many years to come. Because you will define what FATF truly stands for. 

Of course there are some commentators that challenge the legitimacy of your work on virtual assets. They outline that your so called open-ended mandate is by definition constrained by the boundaries set by Human RightTreaties, UN Resolutions, Fourth Amendments or rulings of the EU court ofJustice (Tele2) or the US Supreme Court (Carpenter). And they outline that effectively the FATF Standards are leading to a privacy infringement under those Human Rights agreements. I leave those comments aside for now. Historians and judges may be the judge for that.

For now, I wish to draw your attention to a practical dilemma that you will be facing the upcoming week. The dilemma is: does FATF stand for Facebook As The Foe or Facebook As The Friend? 

The answer depends on your own view: which society do you wish to leave behind for your kids?

FATF: Facebook As The Foe
While you were looking out of the frame of libertarian misuse of virtual currencies for all kinds of criminal purposes, you may have forgotten to look out the other window: at bigtech players such as Facebook and Google. Widening your view is of particular relevance now that you are about to endorse a virtual asset recommendation that obliges names of citizens to be sent along with virtual asset transfers (one way or the other).

Let's take a closer look at Facebook. They have thrown the privacy hundreds of million people under the bus. They opened up their systems to developers and allowed mass scale harvesting of personal data to other companies. They have come under severe criticism for this. And they changed a lot of operations, moved people out and such, all in other to counter the criticism about their harvesting of data. Bottom line: they need to remove personal data or ensure that they have proper consent from citizens that are properly informed on the whereabouts of their personal data.

Their latest project is a cryptocurrency / virtual asset programme, with the naam Libra. It leads to the creation of a world currency, backed by a combination of assets. And Facebook will cooperate with other bigtech and Fintech players to make it happen. As the Wall Street Journal outlines:

FATF-virtual asset rule: cryponite to send and harvest personal data without caring about consent 
I am wondering if you have thought trough your recommendation on standards for virtual assets sufficiently. Are you aware that Facebook itself will become a huge Virtual Asset Service Provider? Are you aware that it is now soliciting other big tech companies to become verification nodes in their virtual asset programme? And are you aware this means they don't have to ask any consent from the users who use their coins, to add name information in or with the transaction (whichever way they see fit, as long as they oblige). And this information must also be shared with counterparts (if any) meaning that if I operate a verification node, I am sitting on the information as well? 

The unintended consequence of what you are doing with the virtual asset rules is that, in times of personal data as the economic fuel for society, you are handing out cryptonite to all kinds of private sector players that want to have a free pass for passing on and harvesting personal information. All kind of other companies may follow suit as the FATF-rule is really an easy tool in the box of companies that actively seek to engage in regulatory arbitrage to avoid privacy rules as much as possible. 

Facebook as the Friend....?
The other alternative is that the FATF effectively sees Facebook as a friend. You are aware of the above consequence and view it as a necessary consequence that will be very helpful in capturing the criminals of the future. That would mean that with the FATF-rule you have deliberately chosen to marry with bigtechs.

Now if I Imagine the biggest data-harvesting company in the world marrying the world-wide law enforcers in the world I must say I am sort of afraid to imagine what their kids will look like. This would be too big a confluence of private and public sector roles and it will have a desastrous impact on the world. Some may argue that we were already living in Orwells 1984, but with this rule you will have definitely sealed the deal. 

What you may just do when agreeing to this virtual asset rule, is outlaw all the citizens of their world. Their data are free for all to harvest and in the process you will ride along to see if you capture a terrorist every now and then. 

Historic data does show, by the way, that all the virtual transaction data will not really help as evaluations of the impact of the travel rule indicate that the number of crooks preventively caught in 15 years of its use can be counted on one or two hands. It is always other law enforcement info that gets you to detect them beforehand, never the transaction data.  

What will FATF stand for: wich kind of society do you leave behind?
Will FATF stand for Facebook as the Foe and will you reconsider virtual asset article 7b?
Or will FATF stand for Facebook as the Friend and will you outlaw all personal data of world citizens?

Next week the choice is up to you. I have a hunch you will be going for the Facebook is my Friend model. Because in your groupthink you may be driven to annihilate all kinds of perceived criminal evil even when the tools for doing so are ineffective. Or just beause your are inclined to do as is told and answer to call of your bosses as they said to approve the virtual asset rules. 

Thereafter, you may end up seeing your choice annulled by judges. This may be the result of lengthy procedures or otherwise geopolitical incidents in which one of the kids of the marriage of FATF and Facebook will have turned evil. And then, each one of you in the room will have to answer towards its citizens, politicians, children and grandchildren: how did you not see this coming? 

Don't finalise the paragraph 7b text
I call upon you to consider the above with an open mind and an open heart.
Do the right thing: vote to re-consider or postpone finalisation of the pragraph 7b text. 

Postponing allows for more time to explore all impacts and consequences and have a further debate on what you wish the true acronym FATF to stand for.

Simon Lelieveldt