A week after the arrest of Tornado Cash software developer Alex Pertsev in the Netherlands, the wave of dissent from the international crypto community is about to hit the streets.
Pertsev’s wife, Xenia Malik, encourages supporters to demonstrate in Amsterdam’s historic Dam Square on Saturday. She hopes the protest will publicize the nature of Pertsev’s arrest.
“The charges against Alex threaten to significantly harm the entire open source software segment,” Malik said in an email. “This is a major issue because it may affect all open source developers and many other people in the future.”
Pertsev, a 29-year-old man involved in the development of the crypto-mixer service Tornado Cash, was arrested on August 12 by Dutch authorities on suspicion of fraud, environmental crime and seizure of assets. Days earlier, the US government banned Americans from using Tornado Cash, citing North Korean hackers’ use of the tool to launder stolen cryptocurrency.
Although crypto mixers are not illegal, they offer anonymity in transactions, which bad actors have used to launder illicitly obtained funds. This raises the question of whether the developers behind these projects are worth pursuing.
Opponents of the arrest are already mobilizing.
On Wednesday, Finnish product manager Daria Mironova created a Change.org petition to raise awareness of the reasons for the arrest.
“Open source software is flexible and secure because it can be audited, patched, and improved by anyone,” the petition states. “But a developer has no control over how their open source code is then used.”
Mironova told CoinDesk she was “really shocked” by the arrest and wanted to help free Pertsev.
“If we don’t act now, in the future we could see many cases where innocent developers go to jail when someone abuses their code,” she said, calling her effort to fight for the freedom of expression.
On Friday afternoon, there were 1,015 signatures. Once the petition collects 40,000 signatures, Mironova plans to take them to the authorities, notifying them of the public dissent.
People are planning the protest in a Telegram group chat called #FreeAlex, sharing their demo strategy, expressing their hopes for Pertsev’s release and discussing legal protections for open source developers.
In addition, Petr Korolev, co-founder of the Blockchain audit company Oxorio, has set up a Gitcoins funds for the release of Pertsev. Still pending approval, it will crowdsource crypto donations into Polygon and zSync.
But while protests, signatures and funds may draw attention to Pertsev’s situation, the bigger question about the freedom of open source developers remains.
Discussion of how to protect developer rights predates Pertsev’s arrest. In January, former Twitter founder and Block (SQ) CEO Jack Dorsey proposed a nonprofit legal defense fund for bitcoin developers, protecting them from lawsuits surrounding their blockchain work.
While Malik thinks her husband’s case could set a bad precedent for future open source developers, for now she just wants him released.
“The main goal [of the protest] is to get the attention of the Dutch authorities and to show that people care. And, of course, I hope for my husband’s speedy release from prison,” she said.
UPDATE (August 19, 2022 20:10 UTC) – Corrects the spelling of Daria Mironova’s name.