In July 2020, the Fifth Circuit made a significant ruling on privacy at crypto exchanges. The court ruled that federal authorities do not need a warrant to go over the records of Bitcoin transactions.

About the Ruling 

During an investigation regarding a website that engaged in criminal activity, federal authority tracked down BTC transactions. They then issued a subpoena to a crypto exchange to help it track down the users of the platform.

Using the details they received, the authorities obtained a warrant to search the home of a user on the exchange. At the home, they found more incriminating evidence. The person tried to suppress the evidence but he lost and appealed the ruling.

The Fifth Circuit court ruled that authorities did not need a warrant to obtain records on Bitcoin transactions. According to the court, they made the ruling based on the doctrine that a person cannot have a legitimate expectation of privacy based on data they volunteer to a third party.

What It Means For The Future

The ruling means that crypto exchange and other intermediaries in the crypto sector must ensure they comply with KYC and AML regulations. Besides that, they must update their policies to ensure they can readily comply with government subpoenas at a moment’s notice.

The Fourth Amendment Does Not Apply To Bitcoin Users

In United States v. Gratkowski, No. 19-50492 (5th Cir. 2020), the court ruled that federal authorities could subpoena BTC transaction records from an exchange without a warrant if there is probable cause. Besides that, the court ruled that federal agents could use sophisticated software to extract details from the BTC blockchain without a warrant. The ruling argued that all details on the blockchain are public.

While the Bitcoin blockchain is often described as anonymous, the government can use the identities of users from other sources such as crypto exchanges, wallet providers, and other intermediaries. By law, these companies have to keep records of users and their transactions, just like banks. The ruling means that the government can now subpoena any intermediary with ease and without a warrant.

Obtaining Records Will Be Much Easier

The court made it possible to obtain transaction records stored at intermediaries in the same way as at banks. It ruled that since the complainant did not see any need for privacy when using the public Bitcoin blockchain, the government did not need a warrant to access these records.

The Fifth Circuit also ruled that Bitcoin transaction records could not be treated the same as cell-phone location details, which are protected by the fourth amendment. It ruled that BTC transactions were of a limited financial scope unlike all-encompassing cellphone records.

What This Means For The Future Of Blockchain

Because of this ruling, some BTC users might seek out products and services that enhance their privacy. The crypto market has already seen exponential growth in decentralized protocols this year ( decentralized exchanges and decentralized finance). Besides that, it could help to raise awareness that public blockchains are not as anonymous as many originally thought. The result is that companies operating in the blockchain sector might opt to use more permissioned blockchains. Despite Bitcoins infrastructure operating in a decentralized manner, one could argue this essentially becomes irrelevant if an individual is holding or trading it on a centralized exchange.

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