L0la L33tz is a privacy advocate and writer. In this interview, we discuss her recent article about flaws in Chainalysis blockchain analysis software. They discuss the impact of such issues in the case against Roman Sterlingoff, who has been held in jail based on Chainalysis’ evidence, the need for regulation in the blockchain surveillance industry, and Coindesk’s subsequent hesitance over L0la’s worthy article amid a conflict of interest.
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Roman Sterlingov has been in jail for 2 years. He has been accused of running Bitcoin Fog, a Bitcoin mixer, and laundering $334 million. No evidence has been found on any computer, thumb drive or server that links Roman to the crimes he’s accused of. The evidence that does exist has been produced by the blockchain forensics company Chainanalysis.
The DoJ’s case against Roman is progressing. As part of a court hearing on the admissibility of expert testimony, Chainalysis’s head of investigation testified that there was no scientific evidence for the accuracy of their software. This is obviously a significant revelation that tests law enforcement’s belief that such analysis can be used to censor transactions and imprison people.
Chainalysis has thus far failed to provide key validating data and peer-reviewed studies. There are also significant doubts about the heuristics used by Chainalysis, such as the co-spend heuristic, which assumes that all inputs in a transaction belong to the same person. This heuristic fails when technologies like coin joins are used, where multiple people contribute inputs to a transaction.
An underlying problem is the complete lack of regulation in the blockchain surveillance industry. There should be open-source transparency as such analysis is being used to deny people their liberty and seize their assets. But, the companies involved are driven by profit and they seek to protect their intellectual property.
This has bled into the reporting on the case. CoinDesk, whose parent company is an investor in Chainalysis, initially retracted an article on this case by L0la L33tz without informing her. They later republished it. But, it calls into question some of the material conflicts of interest within the industry. To avoid a powerful nexus of special interests, it is vital that independent journalists like L0la L33tz are supported in their efforts to shine a light on such systems.