Privacy at Stake: 96% Of Information Requests to Coinbase Came From US Federal Agencies


Coinbase has released its recent Transparency Report, and the results are not at all encouraging for privacy advocates and believers in an “anti-establishment” philosophy of cryptocurrencies.

According to the company, out of 1914 requests for information it received, 1848 of them corresponded to subpoenas and interactions made by criminal investigation agencies, and only 66 came from civil or administrative agencies.

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Type of Information Requests sent by Law Enforcement Agencies to Coinbase. Image: Coinbase
Type of Information Requests sent by Law Enforcement Agencies to Coinbase. Image: Coinbase

Coinbase Unveils An Unsurprising Report

Such statistics from Coinbase are not strange. The company has consistently expressed its willingness to cooperate with U.S. law enforcement agencies, having contracts and good relations with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

This number far exceeds the 710 requests received by Kraken during 2019. This exchange is also based in the United States and discloses data on requests made by authorities. This year, Kraken reported that the authorities developed an increasing interest in crypto, raising the number of information requests by almost 50%.

The team at Coinbase said they have no problem disclosing information to the authorities as long as legal procedures are followed. Still, they also emphasized that customer privacy is also considered. In any case of conflict of interest, they could act in favor of their customers.

As a financial institution with a duty to detect and prevent prohibited activity on its platform, we respect the legitimate interests of government authorities in pursuing bad actors who abuse others and our platform. Yet, we will not hesitate to push back where appropriate.

However, it is important to consider that both Coinbase and Kraken were ranked among the top cryptocurrency exchanges of 2020 by CryptoCompare. The fact that they are registered in the US, have strong AML/KYC policies, and comply with US law, is a major point when it comes to assessing how safe and trustworthy a crypto exchange platform is.

Another highlight of the report is the most interested agencies in tracking cryptocurrencies across the crime world. According to Coinbase, 30.5% of the requests came from the FBI, Homeland Security followed by 16.5%, several local entities with 16.2%, and finally the DEA with 9.3%.

Running An International Business Comes With a Cost

Agencies with direct competence in the economic area had a minimal relationship with Coinbase. The SEC presented 2.6%, the CFTC 0.6%, and the IRS administrative area a little more than 2.2% (in contrast to the 6% of the area that is dedicated to criminal investigations).

US Law Enforcement Information Request, by Agency. Image: Coinbase
US Law Enforcement Information Request, by Agency. Image: Coinbase

Outside of the United States, Coinbase also collaborates with many governments. America has 1113 of the 1914 applications, while the rest of the countries have very little interest in this world. The U.K. sent 443 requests, and Germany 116, the rest of the countries did not reach the 50 interactions with the exchange.

Countries with information requests registered by Coinbase. Image: Coinbase
Countries with information requests registered by Coinbase. Image: Coinbase

The Coinbase report shows that the United States is increasingly interested in regulating cryptocurrencies to the fullest extent. From trying to force encryption service providers to work on solutions to allow law enforcement agencies to access private citizen data to paying companies to develop methods to track down privacy-focused blockchains, such as Monero or Zcash.

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