On January 29, the US House of Representatives passed a bipartisan bill known as the Fight Illicit Networks and Detect (FIND) Trafficking Act of 2019. The bill calls for the study of how cryptocurrency is used to facilitate sex and drug trafficking, and what kind of regulations can be implemented to help prevent the crypto financing of these illegal activities.
FIND, should it be passed by the Senate and get signed into law, would task the comptroller general with conducting the bill's initial research. Along with studying how cryptocurrencies are being used to buy, sell, or facilitate sex and drug trafficking, the comptroller general will also investigate how the technology behind virtual currencies can be used to deter illegal usage. The bill specifically hopes to determine the extent to which the immutability of blockchains can "contribute to the tracking and prosecution of illicit funding." After a year, the research results and regulatory action recommendations will then be submitted to the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs within the Senate and the Committee on Financial Services within the House.
ETHNews covered the bill's introduction in June 2018, questioning the ethics behind FIND just months after the controversial FOSTA-SESTA bills became law in April 2018. FOSTA-SESTA makes website publishers responsible for third parties posting ads for prostitution on their platforms. While intended to help prevent sex trafficking, the bills have been criticized for leading to the deletion of online group chats that included survival strategies and harm-reduction techniques, as well as pushing sex workers from the internet toward pimps.
The litany of problems FOSTA-SESTA has brought upon sex workers doesn't bode well for FIND's effectiveness. The bill states, "Virtual currencies have become a prominent method of pay for goods and services associated with illegal sex trafficking." It also cites studies done by the International Labour Organization that found that in 2014, the global profit from commercial sexual exploitation was $99 billion, with 4.8 million people worldwide forced into sexual exploitation in 2016. But none of these kinds of statistics tell us anything about how FIND will help prevent cryptocurrency usage in sex and drug trafficking.
Doug Kramer, general counsel for Cloudflare, which hosted a decentralized social media platform called Switter that was used by sex workers before being shut down because of FOSTA-SESTA, told Motherboard in April 2018 that Congress "didn't do the hard work" when it came to understanding how the two bills would actually effect sex workers' safety.
The hope is that the comptroller general's "hard work" will go into how FIND can actually prevent cryptocurrency from funding sex and drug trafficking. One of FIND's sponsors, Representative Juan Vargas, published a press release after the House passed the bill. Vargas states: "While evidence points to the growth of virtual currencies as a payment method for illicit sex and drug trafficking, the true scope of the problem and potential solutions are still unknown."
The research portion of FIND is obviously meant to find the "true scope" Vargas alludes to. However, it's frustrating to see a bill develop that, while created with good intentions, still has the potential to treat sex and drug trafficking with the same inexact and dangerous approach of FOSTA-SESTA. Let's hope that the comptroller general is able to do the research and produce a method that will actually help victims of sex and drug trafficking.