A true fuss started on Twitter on Thursday as news surfaced that Trezor, a popular maker of Bitcoin hardware wallets, had integrated Address Ownership Proof Protocol (AOPP) to streamline the process of address verification for users withdrawing bitcoin from regulated exchanges, a requirement in some jurisdictions, CoinDesk first reported.
Trezor released a statement on Twitter soon after the Bitcoin community started raising questions in regards to the initiative.
“Not supporting AOPP will lead to helping the government fence people on exchanges, and our motivation to add direct support was exactly to keep the government from doing so,” Trezor said.
Despite having some logic, Trezor’s action actually undermines the very set of principles it is trying to create. The purpose of having self-custodial bitcoin wallets is to give power to the individual, and by stamping a name, social security number, and home address to a bitcoin unspent output, the network’s pseudonymity is lost as knowledge of ownership is raised from an assumption to a certainty. The best course of action is to fight back against such rules, as showcased in the Netherlands.
In November 2020, the Dutch Central Bank (DNB) mandated that cryptocurrency exchanges and service providers in the country required proof from users that the address they were requesting the bitcoin to be withdrawn to was actually theirs. The measure was enforced by having users provide a screenshot of their wallets or sign a message. The country’s oldest cryptocurrency exchange, Bitonic, set in motion a legal action in court soon after to dispute and object to the DNB’s resolution, claiming that the requirements were unlawful and should never have been made. In May 2021, the DNB formally acknowledged Bitonic’s complaints and revoked the wallet verification requirements.
The DNB would arguably never have stopped to rethink its requirements hadn’t Bitonic gone to court. The fact that the cryptocurrency exchange questioned the resolutions of the country’s central bank and fought in court raised awareness of the problems with the requirements, setting a process of review in motion and ultimately dismantling the set of demands altogether. If Bitonic hadn’t questioned the Dutch Central Bank, it wouldn’t have questioned itself.
A similar dynamic is in play when it comes to the AOPP. The protocol isn’t inherently bad as it simply seeks to facilitate the enforcement of wallet verifications measures in Switzerland by making an interoperable standard available to wallet developers to implement. But even though AOPP isn’t in and of itself negative, it legitimizes the practice of checking for address ownership, and implementing it opens up a precedent for having the government influence developments in the open source Bitcoin wallet space. Surveillance and control mechanisms always start small, and there is hardly a way to see ahead of one’s time and discover the true direction such requests could take.
Therefore, not implementing this standard is an act of sovereignty and responsibility as it protects users from future — and possibly worse — surveillance mechanisms being implemented as per the request of regulatory bodies. In addition to representing an insurance policy, not implementing AOPP on prominent Bitcoin wallets also serves as a foundation to fight the wallet verification measures altogether, measures that represent a teardown of individual privacy and the possible normalization of increased surveillance on individuals’ financial transactions.
As cash usage slowly fades away, Bitcoin might soon be the only tool left to transact privately, and it is the duty of the Bitcoin community to protect and ensure that future by raising awareness around and taking a stance against policies and mechanisms that could risk it, including vouching against the purchasing of KYC bitcoin in the first place.
Both BlueWallet and Sparrow have declared they will remove the built-in support for AOPP in their next release after the Bitcoin community expressed concerns around the initiative.