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Murder, Censorship and Syria: Crypto and the Future of Uprisings

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Rachel-Rose O’Leary is a reporter at CoinDesk, covering how cryptocurrencies are being used in areas of economic, social and political unrest.

This article is part of her ongoing dispatches from Rojava, Syria. 


In August 2011, a hackerspace in Damascus, Syria, was stormed by armed guards.

Known as Aikilab, the guards stripped the place; televisions, computers and even couches were now gone. Once home to a thriving art and technology community, Aikilab hasn’t opened its doors since. And one of its co-founders, Bassel Khartabil, is now dead, having been arrested in 2012 and later tortured and executed by the Syrian regime under president and dictator, Bashar-Al-Assad.

It’s still unclear who, if anyone, ordered the raid of Aikilab and the arrest of Khartabil, but at that time during the Syrian uprising – the period of civilian protests that preceded the Syrian Civil War – nothing was clear cut.

Except for an idea articulated to Dr. Harry Halpin, a former World Wide Web Consortium employee, now working with Binance Labs-backed Nym Technologies, before Khartabil’s arrest: the same force that enabled an angry populace to coordinate against oppressors – the internet – could also be used to suppress people.

And while things have changed greatly in the handful of years since the uprisings – the area is now characterized by proxy wars and militant Islam – Halpin says Khartabil’s observation is still very true.

“Rojava faces the same situation seven years later … They are under surveillance. They are likely going to be under attack. People who participate in that social movement may be killed,” Halpin told CoinDesk, adding:

“We still do not have, as an open source community interested in decentralization and cryptography, we don’t have software that is adequate for these people.”

It’s a hope – finding intersections of hardware and software to empower the people – first experimented with by Khartabil that still commands many people’s attention today, especially as the last of the ISIS strongholds in Syria has been taken down and civilians are looking for ways to rebuild, at times with crypto and blockchain, in a more equitable and accountable system.

“I think that [Khartabil] was trying to bring stability and new social structure to the technology world that we’re moving into,” Jon Phillips, who was Khartabil’s best friend and colleague, said.

While Khartabil wasn’t “deep into crypto,” Phillips continued, he was an early investor of an open hardware design called the Milkymist, which was later repurposed into the first bitcoin ASIC by Canaan Creative.

And with that, Phillips said:

“He helped shape the DNA of the cryptocurrency industry. He was absolutely formative in that.”

Mozilla’s Mitchelle Baker speaking at Aikilab, Damascus, 2010

Technology’s duality

Khartabil’s story exemplifies the parallel use of technology for both liberation and repression – and it resonates with the work being done in Rojava on the technical academies.

Stepping back, it’s important to note the role that technology played in the Syrian uprising. Throughout the Arab Spring, social media proved a vital platform for voicing dissent and allowing people to organize protests and rebellions against oppressive regimes.

But what started as peaceful protests was brutally repressed.

As the revolution transformed into war, Phillips, who lived in Beijing at the time, urged Khartabil to leave Damascus, but Khartabil refused.

“A bomb went off where my mom lives. I need to find her. My dad has not had water in two weeks. I need to take him some,” Phillips recalled Khartabil saying.

It was this character that created Aikilab in the first place. The hackerspace – although Phillips wary of the dark connotations to the word hacker contended it was more of a cultural or community center – was named after Khartabil’s pet turtle, whose name came from the Chinese “ai” meaning love and “ki” or “qi” meaning energy.

“It means love energy, or join forces, join energy together,” Phillips said. “We wanted to help humanity and society, we wanted to make life better, we didn’t want to make life worse.”

The last time Phillips saw Khartabil was at the Creative Commons summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2011.

Bassel Khartabil pictured with Jon Phillips and Joi Ito, in Warsaw, Poland in 2011

After that, Khartabil, in his communication with Halpin, was coordinating to secure the communications of other protestors.

Halpin provided Khartabil with access to a VPN, although sanctions against the Syrian regime meant that the Google Play Store was blocked for people trying to download applications.

Recognizing the role that the Syrian regime also played in controlling the network infrastructure, in conversation with Halpin, Khartabil raised questions about new, autonomous alternatives for communication security and recognized the importance of anonymous, censorship-resistance tooling.

According to Halpin, who has been providing tech support to human rights activists in the region since Tahrir Square clashes, the last question Khartabil asked to hackers on IRC before his arrest was:

“Do you want to help the Syrian people to connect?”

Eliminate the leadership

Halpin describes his work with Khartabil as a “failed intervention.”

Because of what happened, Halpin – and the other hackers that assisted Khartabil in his final days as a free man – were unable to help the movement’s greatest problem: that its communication was exposed.

“What Bassel was doing is he was trying to provide technology solutions for openness and to make society better, but other people saw that as a threat,” he said, adding:

“Information and technology is a magic art is some level. It’s the power to multiply. Bassel knew that art, the art of computer science, and he understood hardware science, and so he was detained.”

This aptitude for technology, Phillips continued, is what made Khartabil a target, although information surrounding the arrest is limited. Khartabil was imprisoned on March 15, 2012. While it’s also unclear what happened to Khartabil in prison, he was communicating from the inside for some time; according to Phillips, Khartabil spent at least some of the time being used for tech support.

He was executed in 2015, but his death was not announced until 2017.

According to Halpin, Khartabil recognized something very important, and something very dangerous, that had yet to be comprehended by hackers and activists in the West – the risk that surveillance poses to any kind of social movement.

In any uprising, Halpin said, there are certain people with a higher level of activity (like Khartabil). In the Syrian revolution, these players were quickly identified and eliminated, he continued.

This process led to a leadership vacuum, that caused the revolution to be co-opted by far more dangerous players.

The crypto tools

The ability to communicate and interact without the fear of surveillance or censorship is critical for any kind of political activity, Halpin told CoinDesk.

He said:

“People must control their own means of communication. That is a precondition to any type of political horizon, it is a precondition to any kind of political liberation.”

The experience with Khartabil led Halpin to recognize the importance of decentralized tools, as well as the failure of Western programmers to build the right software to support such events in countries dealing with more corrupt regimes. Such tools need to be built in advance of any revolution, before it’s too late, he said.

Toward this, Halpin emphasized the importance of bitcoin.

“While not particularly privacy-enhanced, bitcoin has put censorship-resistant money in the hands of a fair amount of the population and it is becoming easier to use. There is tremendous unforeseen political advantages to giving ordinary people decentralized, encrypted technologies,” he said.

And while many are working on types of decentralized communication tools – Halpin cited ethereum project Status as an example of this – there’s a failure to provide tools that can even function offline. Halpin warned that without such software, there’s a risk that history will repeat itself.

For example, while Rojava has declared autonomy from the Syrian regime, for the most part, its people rely on a Syrian communication network, called Syriatel, to interact. Equally, much of the data flows through Turkey, and when Turkey occupied Rojava’s city of Afrin in 2018, the Turkish state cut off all internet access and telephone communications, plunging the people into darkness.

Yet, while the situation in Rojava is highly vulnerable, Halpin ended on a note of optimism, believing that due to an alignment of interest between Rojava and high tech communities, things could change.

“Rojava is trying to provide a radically democratic and decentralized model for society. Some of the rhetoric does mirror the rhetoric of free software, the blockchain community, of highly technical people,” he said, concluding:

“That’s a good sign because it may mean that we may eventually see a convergence between the kinds of software that cutting edge technologists want to create, and the kinds of technologies that new forms of democratic societies need.”

The full story of Dr. Harry Halpin’s work with Bassel Khartabil will be published in 2019 as “The Tragic Dream of Autonomous Internet Access: The Case of Bassel Safadi and the Syrian Revolution” in the book “Access to Knowledge & Mobile Technologies” by the American University in Cairo.

Photos courtesy of Jon Phillips

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Game Changer for Bitcoin? VanEck ETF Decision Tomorrow –  All You Need to Know

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One of the events the entire cryptocurrency community has its sights turned to is the VanEck/SolidX Bitcoin ETF proposal. It was published in the Federal Register back on February 20th, giving the SEC a legal timeframe of 90 days to make a further decision. This means that the Commission must come up with a decision tomorrow, May 21st.

May 21st – An Important Date for Bitcoin

The saga around VanEck/SolidX Bitcoin ETF proposal has been going on for quite a while now. Last year, their application was withdrawn after being delayed on multiple occasions by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). However, shortly after that, the application was submitted again, reigniting hope among those who believe that a Bitcoin ETF would catalyze a further increase in the price of the cryptocurrency, as well as further adoption.

The new application was filed with the Federal Register on February 20th, giving the SEC a binding term of 90 days to come up with a decision to approve, deny, or delay it. Interestingly enough, another Bitcoin ETF application was also filed with the Register on February 15th – that of Bitwise. The SEC delayed its decision on the latter, while even deciding to use the full 90 days term to make up its mind on the application of VanEck and SolidX. This is why May 21st is an important date to expect.

According to famous legal expert among the cryptocurrency community, Jake Chervinsky, however, the chances of a delay or denial are much higher than the chances of approval.

He bases his merit on the fact that the SEC is unlikely to approve the first-ever Bitcoin ETF without taking the full 240 days period that it legally can. Moreover, he also finds it rather unusual that the Commission didn’t delay the VanEck Bitcoin ETF together with that of Bitwise.

The lawyer also cited some of the reasons for the delay of the application of Bitwise, which include:

  • The nature of the market for Bitcoin
  • The efficiency of that market
  • The susceptibility of that market to manipulation
  • How the market is similar to markets for other commodities
  • Reports that a large percentage of reported volume is fake

Chervinsky pointed out that if VanEck has any chance of approval, then the SEC “would need to delay & aks all these same questions to them as well.”

What Does This Mean For Bitcoin?

While it’s anyone’s guess how a potential approval of a Bitcoin ETF would impact Bitcoin’s price and whether it would surge, the majority of the cryptocurrency community is undoubtedly sure of it.

According to Josh Roger, a well-known cryptocurrency trader and investor, the different scenarios will have different impacts on the price.

The upcoming VanEck ETF decision could certainly have a serious impact on BTC price.

Denial = Pull back the current price regardless of how good it looked this weekend.

Approval = push the price to new yearly high and create mass FOMO buying.

Delay = Expected & likely little change.

Be the first to know about our price analysis, crypto news and trading tips: Follow us on Telegram or subscribe to our weekly newsletter.


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PSA: Bitconnect ‘2.0’ Triggers Countdown to Resurrect Greatest Crypto Ponzi Ever

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By

By CCN: In 2016 a cryptocurrency project named BitConnect came along offering 1% daily compounded interest for those who purchased and staked its token.

When the BitConnect (BCC) bubble inevitably burst, the owners, as expected, made off everyone’s money. The BCC token price sunk by 99.9%, and a previously $2.5 billion valued project became worthless.

Now, the greatest scam ever sold is back. Enter BitConnect 2.0.

Hey, Hey, Hey: BitConnect 2.0 Arrives for a Second Bite at the Cherry

A website and Twitter profile advertising the arrival of BitConnect 2.0 appeared in the last few days. The website shows a countdown to the rebirth of one of the worst cryptocurrency scams of all time.

Bitconnect countdown

The Twitter profile contains just two posts – one is a link to the new website; and the other is a Binance referral link with the directive ‘Buy Now’.

Of course, there are no BitConnect tokens (either 1.0 or 2.0) hosted on Binance. If we take a look at the domain registrar details for the new website – BitConnect.io – we see some strange peculiarities.

Despite the Twitter post promising a July 1st launch, the website’s domain name is set to expire two weeks before that date. The domain, which differs slightly from the original BitConnect.co website, was registered in 2017.

bitconnect domain

Scamception: A Scam Inside a Scam

All of this adds up to what looks like a scam inside a scam. Assuming the site domain isn’t renewed before the expiration on June 19th, then perhaps what we have here isn’t BitConnect 2.0 at all.

Rather, it appears someone with an old domain name is attempting to squeeze as much money out of their Binance referral link as possible before the site expires. The Twitter profile shows almost 1,000 followers already, despite the first post not appearing until one day ago. However, the new website is also registered in the same geographic location as the original – Panama.

One person who was able to see the funny side of the BitConnect revival was former BCC front-man, Carlos Matos. Famous for his exuberant and dramatic on-stage sale pitch, Matos continues to post memes about the BitConnect saga. Recently he revived his infamous ‘Hey, Hey, Hey…’ slogan to comment on BitConnect 2.0; which he apparently has no part in.

[embedded content] [embedded content]

Matos even posted this meme expressing a skeptical take on the project’s revival.

bitconnect grand theft auto meme

Too Late for Skepticism

Ultimately, the same skepticism would have been useful several years ago, before gullible investors were taken for all they had. From the ICO price of $0.17, the value of BCC tokens shot up to $509.99 in one year – marking ridiculous gains of 299,894%.

bitconnect charts

Of course, those gains were never cashed out. When the exit scam hit in January 2018, the value of BCC dropped like a stone. Data for the token price continued to be tracked up until August 2018, when it held a value of just $0.263786, before being removed from all exchanges.

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EOS Price Prediction Today: Daily (EOS) Value Forecast – May 20

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34-Million-EOS-Officially-Burned

34-Million-EOS-Officially-Burned

  • On the upside, if the price is sustained above the EMAs, the bulls are likely to retest or break the $6.60 and $6.80 resistance levels.
  • However, if the bulls fail to break the resistance levels, the crypto’s price is likely to fall back to the range bound zone.

EOS/USD Medium-term Trend: Ranging

  • Resistance levels: $ 6.80, $7.0, $7.20.
  • Support levels: $6.20, $6, $5.80.

Last week the price of EOS was in a bullish trend. On May 16, the crypto’s price tested a high of $6.80 and was resisted. The market fell and was in a downward correction to the support level at $5.80 price level. On May 19, the crypto’s price was in a bullish move but was resisted at the $6.60 price level. The crypto’s price is above the 12-day EMA and the 26-day EMA which indicates that price is likely to rise.

On the upside, if the price is sustained above the EMAs, the bulls are likely to retest or break the $6.50 and $6.80 resistance levels. However, if the bulls fail to break the resistance levels, the crypto’s price is likely to fall back to the range bound zone. Meanwhile, the market is at the overbought region of the daily stochastic but below the 80% which indicates that price is in a bearish momentum and a sell signal.

EOS/USD Short-term Trend: Ranging

On the 1-hour chart, the price of EOS is in a bearish trend zone. On May 19, the crypto’s price reached a high of $6.52 but was resisted. The crypto’s price fell and was in a downward correction. The bears have broken the 0.236, 0382 and the 0.50 Fib. retracement levels.

The price is in a downtrend zone but the 0.618 retracement level is likely to hold. In other words, the price may fall to the $6.19 price level. Meanwhile, the market has reached the oversold region of the daily stochastic but below the 40% range. This indicates that the price of EOS is in a bearish momentum and sell signal.

The views and opinions expressed here do not reflect that of BitcoinExchangeGuide.com and do not constitute financial advice. Always do your own research.

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Bitcoin Has Soared Above Intrinsic Value During Latest Rally, JPM Strategists Claim

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Strategists from United States banking giant JPMorgan Chase (JPM) have argued that bitcoin (BTC)’s recent rally has ostensibly soared past what they calculate to be its intrinsic value. Their analysis was reported by Bloomberg on May 20.

The strategists — who reportedly include JPMorgan global market strategist Nikolaos Panigirtzoglou —  judge that the top coin has recently been trading in a way that mirrors its late 2017 rally, which preceded a protracted price slump.

To ascertain the coin’s intrinsic value, the strategists reportedly analyzed bitcoin as a commodity and calculated its cost of production based on parameters such as estimated computational power, electricity costs and hardware energy efficiency, Bloomberg notes. They reportedly stated:

“Over the past few days, the actual price has moved sharply over marginal cost. This divergence between actual and intrinsic values carries some echoes of the spike higher in late 2017, and at the time this divergence was resolved mostly by a reduction in actual prices.”

Bitcoin — which has seen a renewed lease of life since April — has traded as high as almost $8,300 within the last week — having traded sideways below $5,000 throughout February and March. In mid-December 2018, the top coin had traded below the $3,300 mark — with its current price point thus representing a roughly 150% gain over its bear market lows.

Bitcoin’s 3-month chart, Feb. 20 — May 20 2019

Bitcoin’s 3-month chart, Feb. 20 — May 20 2019. Source: CoinMarketCap

In an apparent qualification of their analysis, JPMorgan’s strategist are cited by Bloomberg as having noted that:

“Defining an intrinsic or fair value for any cryptocurrency is clearly challenging. Indeed, views range from some researchers arguing that it has no fundamental value, to others estimating fair values well in excess of current prices.”

As reported, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon has long adopted a sceptical stance toward decentralized cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, even as he steers the megabank toward launching its own blockchain-powered native settlement digital asset, JPM Coin.

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Ethereum-Based Stock Exchange Plans First Company Listing in June

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SprinkleXchange, a stock exchange built on ethereum, is reportedly listing its first company next month.

Sprinkle Group CEO Alexander Wallin told Bloomberg in an interview published Friday, “We have the luxury of being first with this, but we’re aware that it will become a crowded market.”

The Bahrain-based platform, operating within a regulatory sandbox created by the country’s central bank, uses a decentralized clearing and settlement system that uses automation in order to reduce time and cost. Prices will be set using the Dutch auction method, with SprinkleXchange taking a 1 percent fee.

Wallin told the news source that the cost of listing would be similar to on a Swedish stock exchange, but “you get global access and we can show that you also get better liquidity.”

SprinkleXchange is aiming to attract companies with a market capitalization of $20-$200 million. It expects to list 35 companies over the next 12 months and as many as 1,000 over the next few years. As well as listed stocks, the firm will offer trading in cryptocurrencies and also plans to add exchange-traded funds in the future.

A number of traditional stock exchanges are currently moving to integrate blockchain tech in their platforms. Switzerland’s top stock exchange, SIX, for instance, is expected to roll out a blockchain platform to speed up trading later this year. While the Gibraltar Stock Exchange recently started allowing the listing of tokenized securities.

The Australian Securities Exchange is notably rebuilding its ageing CHESS settlement platform using blockchain tech provided by Digital Asset. And other stock exchanges, including in Jamaica, Thailand and Spain, have also announced initiatives around blockchain and crypto assets.

Bahrain image via Shutterstock 

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