Earlier this month, the US Treasury Department sanctioned cryptocurrency mixing service Tornado Cash, alleging it laundered funds for entities deemed national threats to America.
The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has identified the following entities: the Tornado Cash organization on GitHub, the tornado.cash website, RPC nodes operated by Ethereum infrastructure providers Alchemy and Infura, $USDC on Tornado Cash contracts with CirclePay, and about 40 Ethereum blockchain addresses that offer virtual currency mixing under the Tornado Cash smart contract application.
Based on the interpretation of those sanctions, GitHub, owned by Microsoft, closed the user accounts of three people who contributed code to the project and deleted the Tornado Cash account along with the source code in the repository.
While none of the three developers have been named to the OFAC’s SDN list, they appear to be wanted by financial crime detectives: one of the three, Tornado Cash developer Alexey Pertsev, was subsequently arrested in Amsterdam by the Dutch police. Police.
Forks of the open source Tornado Cash software have remained on GitHub, and on Monday Matthew Green, a cryptography professor at Johns Hopkins University, published a new fork of the software with the support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
Both Green and Kurt Opsahl, deputy executive director and general counsel of the EFF, previously expressed concerns about the removal of source code by GitHub, arguing that code is speech and that GitHub has suppressed speech by shutting down the Tornado Cash repository. to change gear.
Green says the fork he’s published exists to test whether removing code is ever the right response to sanctions. He says if GitHub removes the code, the EFF will challenge that decision in court.
“In my work as a researcher and instructor at Johns Hopkins, I have made extensive use of Tornado Cash and Tornado Nova source code to teach concepts related to cryptocurrency privacy and zero-knowledge technology,” Green wrote in a commentary. are tornado repositories repo.
“My students have built great projects with the code. The loss or reduced availability of this source code will be detrimental to the scientific and engineering communities.”
He also said he objects to GitHub’s decision to remove the Tornado Cash repo, a decision he attributes to GitHub’s risk mitigation based on the OFAC order. The problem is that the OFAC order is not clear.
Let’s get some clarity
As the EFF explains in a blog post, the OFAC refers to “Tornado Cash” as both a technology and a sanctioned entity. It is the name of the open source project published on GitHub account, of a smart contract application that runs autonomously on the Ethereum blockchain, a website and a number of people involved in creating the currency mixing software.
The EFF said it has asked OFAC to clarify what it means by “Tornado Cash,” but as of Tuesday, a spokesperson said the organization has heard nothing. The register also contacted the Treasury Department for comment and we have not received a reply yet either.
The advocacy organization acknowledges that the government has a legitimate interest in taking action against ransomware and foreign hacking groups, but states that those interests are not served by making the Tornado Cash source code unavailable. The EFF said its main concern is GitHub’s decision to delete the Tornado Cash repo and the accounts of key contributors to the project.
“While GitHub has its own right to decide what happens on its platform, the disappearance of this source code from GitHub after government action created the specter of government action that cooled the publication of this code,” the group said. .
The register asked GitHub to comment on what Green has been up to and whether GitHub plans to bring down the Tornado Cash fork(s).
A GitHub spokesperson replied with a link to the company’s trade control policy and an answer that didn’t answer these questions.
“GitHub’s vision is to be the global platform for collaboration with developers, and we strive to make open source code as widely accessible as possible while adhering to U.S. trade laws,” a spokesperson said in a statement by email. e-mail. “We are thoroughly investigating government sanctions to ensure that users and customers are not affected beyond what is required by law.” ®