Snowden Slams Taproot Upgrade Sparks Controversy: Does Bitcoin Need to Be Anonymous or Not?

Bitcoin core developers say Taproot software upgrade will improve privacy. Snowden says it will make things worse. Who’s right and who’s wrong?

Snowden Slams Taproot Upgrade Sparks Controversy: Does Bitcoin Need to Be Anonymous or Not?

“Bitcoin is far from private, and the upcoming Taproot software update could make things worse.”

Edward Snowden, one of the world’s foremost privacy advocates, is not a big fan of the upcoming Taproot update.

Edward Snowden is a former CIA employee who is wanted by the U.S. and U.K. for disclosing secret documents from the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program to the Guardian and the Washington Post. He has since traveled to Russia and has been granted permanent residency.

At the Ethereal Summit, Snowden told Marta Belcher of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), “Cryptocurrencies, and in this regard I would say Bitcoin, have really failed utterly in terms of security.” He also added that Taproot is not a good solution.
The comment sparked an outcry from other activists. Alex Gladstein, chief strategy officer at the Human Rights Foundation, argued that Snowden misrepresented the Taproot upgrade. Others argue that the Russian exile doesn’t realize the importance of mainstream adoption of the program and that problems could arise if Bitcoin becomes too anonymous.

Snowden: Taproot Upgrade Doesn’t Address Bitcoin Privacy Concerns

Taproot was first proposed in early 2018 with the aim of increasing Bitcoin privacy. It is currently going through the process of getting from the developer’s brain to the Bitcoin protocol itself. When it does go live, will it improve privacy, scalability, and security?

Taproot can allegedly perform complex, multi-step transactions on the Bitcoin network and make them appear as if they were single transactions. Thus, transactions involving multi-signature wallets or the Lightning Network are like any other peer-to-peer transaction. In addition, Taproot’s upgrade may be combined with Schnorr signatures, which combine multiple signatures into a single one, further obscuring the mechanisms at play and increasing privacy.

Snowden, however, doesn’t buy it. He told Belcher, “Look at what Taproot actually does; Taproot doesn’t address the privacy concerns of Bitcoin. There are even some arguments that this approach actually makes privacy worse by fragmenting the address space and making the analysis of the forensic process easier.”

Immediately after, he praised privacy coins Zcash and Monero and urged Bitcoin to “achieve privacy by design.”

At the same time, he questioned the willingness of those who help maintain the Bitcoin blockchain to embrace this model: “I think it’s really frustrating for a lot of people in this space that the core development team at Bitcoin is not prioritizing privacy, because the longer they wait, the more barriers there will be to prevent that from happening.”
In response, some developers and researchers say Snowden’s comments about Taproot are clearly incorrect.

Anonymity is not a priority at the heart of Bitcoin

Gladstein confessed, “I have a lot of respect for Snowden, who has sacrificed a lot to reveal the surveillance state to the world, but I disagree with his assessment of Bitcoin privacy and wish he would consider looking more deeply into Taproot upgrades and existing privacy tools such as coin mixing technologies CoinJoin and Lightning,” both of which refer to mixing multiple transactions into one to anonymize transactions, respectively tools and second-layer applications that allow transactions to happen quickly off-chain.

He also noted that Snowden’s attack on the priorities of Bitcoin developers was wrong.” They are in fact constrained by Bitcoin users to not accept any software upgrades that undermine Bitcoin’s auditability, backward compatibility or stability. And developers can’t do whatever they want; they must craft solutions with the overriding condition that the most important values of Bitcoin, namely decentralized digital currency scarcity and the ability of users to control the system, are not sacrificed. This arrangement also means that Bitcoin cannot currently put experimental crypto on the main chain.”
Ari Paul, founder and CIO of BlockTower Capital, doesn’t entirely agree with Gladstein’s view.

In a tweet that included Snowden and Gladstein, he wrote: “Core developers clearly do not prioritize privacy. This is an objectively true statement. We can build hybrid or other privacy technologies into the Core client. This is not a criticism – perhaps it is wise not to prioritize privacy. But it’s objectively accurate.”
For his part, Chris Blec, a decentralized finance researcher, believes that “Taproot is a good step towards improving the use of pseudonyms for Bitcoin. In today’s world of ubiquitous surveillance, true anonymity is needed to maintain privacy. But unfortunately, anonymity is not a priority at the heart of Bitcoin, as he will only hinder mainstream adoption and slow down Bitcoin’s absorption of the world’s wealth.”
Many people agree with this view. With a current market cap of over $1 trillion and growing mainstream acceptance, Bitcoin is fighting a constant battle that requires patience.

In addition, Messari founder Ryan Selkis tweeted in reference to Snowden saying, “His role is that of a smug honest man, and he plays it admirably. But those who are actually winning the war (i.e., making cryptocurrencies “too big to fail”) know that anonymity (transactions) can kill the entire ecosystem.”
Others, like Bitcoin developer Eric Lombrozo, argue that making Bitcoin, a decentralized database with different stakeholders around the world, more private is both a technical feat and an implementation challenge.

Lombrozo tweeted, “Until he succeeds in forking the Bitcoin protocol to add more privacy, he’s in no position to criticize others for not doing so. He clearly has no idea how hard this is.”
Taproot may not be implemented until November. Until then, expect to hear more talk about whether the move is consistent enough with the Bitcoin philosophy or if it is simply a concession as the emerging cryptocurrency moves into the mainstream.

Posted by:CoinYuppie,Reprinted with attribution to:
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