Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., has served in the U.S. Senate for many years. He was also a co-sponsor or sponsor of several important pieces of legislation that enabled the adoption of the Internet. He voted for a House Resolution that overturned the Securities and Exchange Commission Staff Accounting Bulletin 121 and questioned the threats to financial and personal privacy online.

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The Narrative

Last month, Senator Ron Wyden addressed CoinDesk’s Consensus conference. My questions, as with previous editions of this newsletter have been condensed but not the Senator’s answers. The Senator’s responses have been lightly edited.

Why it matters

The Senator is a leading voice for internet privacy and support, two important issues in the crypto industry.

Breaking it Down

Before we get started, let me introduce you. What brought you here? What are you doing?

It’s good to learn new things, and it brings me back to my technology roots. When I first arrived in the Senate only [former senator] Pat Leahy, D-Vt. knew how to operate a computer. Since [Senator Spencer] Abraham, R-Mich. and I wrote digital signing law, I had the opportunity to write a few of the most important rules for the internet. I wrote the Internet Tax Non-Discrimination Law to ensure that individuals are held accountable. This sparked an interest in technology policies, the Senate’s biggest challenge being to understand new technologies.

What is your opinion of the Senate’s atmosphere regarding [crypto]? What is the legislator’s view?

There’s still a long road ahead. As for how I started, as part the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill at the last moment, a group senators said “We’re going to fund this by taxes the software developers and coders,” I said “hey, I’m not familiar with cryptography, but this is people using their First Amendment right.” They are the creators.”

I’m also very interested in bringing more of these creatives to the United States of America. We are losing them in many cases. When they said “we’re going to tax coders up to $50 billion”, I asked, “I would like to know more about it,” as we are saying that creative software developers will be taxing everyone. We were able, in essence, to stop that. It’s a good example of our problem. People said that “nobody in the Senate is aware of it.” When friends told me that they had forgotten about Ron, I replied, “Hold on.” I don’t have all the answers. “But I know that to tax the software developers for $50 billion without hearings or discussion is a mistake.” I still support software developers in our blockchain challenge.

The Senate passed a bill under the Congressional Review Act to repeal or reverse the SEC Staff Accounting Bulletin 121 a few weeks back. You were one of 11 Democrats that helped pass this bill through the Senate. This is a very controversial issue in the cryptosphere. Could you please explain your view on this?

Just to be sure that everyone understands what we are talking about. It’s mainly about accounting. This is like the staff account bulletin, which is what it is called. It is not really enforced. It basically establishes a different standard in terms of custody for crypto than everyone else does in the financial industry. This is a complicated issue. I was on the Senate floor when many senators were asking, “huh? Why did we not have any hearings or discussions? Why did we not have any discussions?” We’ve all said it before: you’re going say that crypto does not have the same types of custody arrangements as other financial areas, so we should have a real discussion. A group of us suggested that we “hold on and make sure to think things through, and not create a unique barrier for customers to store their crypto.”

Without referring to any specific legislation, do you think there is a need for market structure legislation?

It is true and you need a regulatory structure. Chairman McHenry tries to achieve this. You need to be tough with scammers and rip-off artist. One of the reasons why I came was to learn about new ways to combat this.

It’s important that you step up your efforts to fight terrorism, fraudsters, cartels and other such things. The session is winding down, so I’m not sure how far the bill will go. But, Chairman McHenry’s idea to create a regulatory framework, and focus more on fraud and ripoff artists, strikes me as a good one.

Recently, you signed a joint letter with Senator Cynthia Lummis from Wyoming, in which the DOJ was pursuing charges against Roman Storm, a Tornado Cash developer. Could you tell us a bit about the letter’s contents?

I don’t talk about companies, specific cases or facts. Senator Lummis has partnered with me on several bipartisan initiatives. We wanted to be sure you didn’t paint an entire sector of the economy with a single brush because you felt one firm, and I won’t go into details, had engaged in conduct that was concerning. We’re back at the software developers. Some people say that I am getting repetitive, but I want to leave here with only two thoughts: I am interested in software developers and I am interested in stable currencies. There’s a lot of room for creativity, and I believe that. I would love to see a portable record. All these politicians and lawmakers have been talking about it for literally decades. Blockchain is able to do it, I believe. That’s what we want.

Your work to reform FISA – a surveillance law – is perhaps what you are best known for. What happened? And what’s next for us?

I don’t care if people call me a privacy hawk or a private hawk. You know, I believe that law-abiding citizens are entitled to privacy. Surveillance is one of the most troubling aspects of American society. What I want to make sure is that in areas such as public policy and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act we recognize trends. The trends are that global communication has become more integrated. We should protect the privacy of Americans who are caught up in these searches. That’s why I have been pushing section 702 in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Do You Have Any Specific – Obviously the Bill went through. I believe that it was only reauthorized with no changes.

The intelligence authorization bill will include some safeguards. Here’s another issue. In the intelligence world, we talk about sources and methods. Sources and methods must always be kept secret as patriotic individuals gather information on those who may pose a threat to the nation. The law must always be made public.

Americans should be able to read public laws while enjoying a cup of coffee, soda, or whatever they choose. They are called public laws for a good reason. We can hold our elected officials responsible. Unfortunately, the reforms being discussed in relation to FISA will have a large portion of it kept secret. I call this secret law. You have to take away from this discussion that the methods, sources, and laws used to gather information must be kept secret.

If you were in charge of this bill, what other changes would you make?

When you want to obtain information about a law abiding American, I said that you need a warrant. My FISA approach would’ve established this with one exception: if the government believes that there is an imminent threat.

I can see a lot of nice people in the audience. This means that if the government wants to collect information from law-abiding Americans, it will need a warrant. If there is an immediate threat to people, such as here or elsewhere, the government may go and get the information.

The question is how to balance privacy with the freedom to transact online, send money, and do other things.

Let’s not pit security against liberty. You can have them both.

AI, or things that monitor us, has been in the news a lot lately. Would you mind sharing your thoughts about the need for a regulatory framework to guide the development of new tools, data collection, and their creation? What might it look like?

My Algorithm Accountability Act was introduced with Senator [Cory] Booker, (D.N.J.), and Congresswoman [Yvette] Clare (D.N.Y.). The Algorithmic Accountability Act is very similar to some of what I began decades ago. It’s an excellent touch. There’s transparency, accountability and equity.

I don’t want the government to create massive layers of government right now. I would rather we focus on real problems. Minorities have, for instance, huge problems with access to education, housing, and credit. We’re going to investigate how the algorithms are displayed, and who is responsible for the accountability side. I think this is a good place to start.

Stablecoins are something I strongly support. I don’t think you will get into this, but it’s my background. Stablecoins is a great name because it immediately sends the message that you are serious about protecting a variety of interests.

Is there enough regulation already in place to help stablecoins grow?

I believe we are just getting started. I heard that an election was coming, but I’m not going to campaign for anyone, that can be done later. Good policy is the best kind of politics, I believe. What we’re discussing with a decentralized finance, competition, and strong consumer protection so that you can catch fraudsters is a great issue to run on. That’s a great approach, and I tell my colleagues that it’s one where you can do both good and well.

In your opinion, what are the specifics that you feel are missing in terms of policy around the development of stablecoins?

The biggest challenge facing the Congress will be to understand new technologies. Some people in the Congress are traditionalists and are concerned about choice and competition. They think that it will lead to disruption. There’s also a group of people who don’t really know much about the subject. What I think we should do is to find this kind of third way. I tell my colleagues that if you find a good staff member who has a willingness and interest to learn, then that will be the key to success in the Senate.

I’d like to talk about the elections for a bit. I heard there was something going on in November.

Many of the people and companies who are following this have described it as a surge of momentum. This is due to the recent votes and other activities. Legislators and candidates are focusing on crypto. Is there a new wave of interest? Will the interest of candidates and legislators last past November?

We can build on our progress. It’s fair to say that two years ago this field was not well-supported. It’s getting to the stage where, at Thanksgiving, your grandparents and parents will ask you about crypto. They might even consider investing a small amount of money.

I am not a financial advisor or anything of the sort. I believe that there are now some opportunities for those who want to work in these areas. Think about software developers. These are the people politicians say they want. They are young, creative, innovative and they have solutions for processing, financial aid to people, bill of lading, on outdated paper. We can use other options in order to increase competition in the supply chain. These are fantastic opportunities.

Are you seeing much voter interest or are constituents saying “This is something that I care about?” ”

Open the doors and let my constituents ask questions. This isn’t getting as much attention as inflation, because people are more concerned about the cost of groceries or health care or other things. There’s no doubt that interest is increasing. Many young, creative individuals are driving the movement.

Blockchain is particularly interesting for people because of the role played by the federal government in managing money. I think this is a great opportunity to build interest. What I have told people, is that we should talk about software developers and make it clear that we are not taking a backseat in the fight against fraud. According to what I hear as I visit groups, many people who work in crypto and blockchain are already working with the government in fighting terrorism.

For our audience watching online and physically, what do you think is the most productive and useful way to interact with your office?

Politics rarely starts in Washington DC, and then spreads downward. It’s usually the other way around. It begins at the grassroots and grows upward. You can try to increase opportunities for blockchain by contacting your legislators. Talk about topics that you believe they will be interested in. It would be great to have young software developers who can work on the United States and earn a decent wage rather than having them go overseas.

We’re streaming this live, I believe. Let me tell you that I am very proud of my involvement with technology. And I am so grateful that I was given that opportunity. It’s still based on what you don’t know. Listening is the key to creating good policy. This is what I did in my town halls over the past week. Then, going back to DC, talking to people from all walks of life about issues such as stable coins, software developers combating fraud, and trying to partner up with the government whenever possible to provide public services puts you on the correct side of history.

What are you watching right now, as we’re about to end our day? Do you have any particular topics or issues that are of interest, either in Congress, Oregon, or in other places?

The second word that will come up at home is bill. It could be a medical bill, a housing bill or a gas bill. You know, it’s about the challenge of finding a solution, after COVID. Many industries are no longer here. It’s because I have a lot of roots with people like software developers. It was my first encounter with crypto, when Senators came to the floor to say “we are going to tax these developers $50 billion.” I asked, “Wait a minute. How did software developers acquire expertise in taxation?” and we got sidetracked. Listening is the biggest challenge we face today. The most important thing to do is to pay attention to these economic issues and use scarce resources more efficiently.

Thank you for being here. Thank you for staying for the final day of Consensus ].

In DC, when the meeting is over, someone always gives a big address. Sometimes they are god awful. Just to thank you. Thank you. This is a great opportunity to learn. Public policy should be about that, according to me. We’ll move today’s discussion to the “to continue” section. Thanks, everybody.

  • The hearing originally scheduled for today, Tuesday (9:30 a.m. ET), has been rescheduled for July 12, 2024.

  • ( Wired ) The magazine Wired investigated Perplexity AI. This tool has been under fire for cloning original reports and marketing them as large language models-generated summaries. Some of the summaries that Perplexity generated were inaccurate.

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