“Technically, Bitcoin is a fork and Bitcoin Cash is the original blockchain,” according to a draft report on blockchain technology by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The wording is bound to see feathers ruffled and teeth bared in Bitcoin’s ongoing Scaling War.
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Government Agency Attempts to Define Blockchain
The controversial statement appeared in a draft document titled “NISTIR 8202 – Blockchain Technology Overview” by NIST’s Dylan Yaga and Peter Mell, plus Nik Roby of G2, and Karen Scarfone of Scarfone Cybersecurity. It attempts to set a clear definition of what blockchain technology is, and explain its surrounding issues — including concepts like consensus, permissioned vs. permissionless, and hard forks.
The 57-page document has a section describing each of the major blockchain projects, including (among others) Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum, Litecoin, Dash, Ripple, and Hyperledger.
Most of the descriptions are fairly bland and straightforward, however the section on Bitcoin Cash (which the report also calls by its original code “BCC”) stands out. It reads:
8.1.2 Bitcoin Cash (BCC)
In July 2017, approximately 80 to 90 percent of the Bitcoin computing power voted to incorporate Segregated Witness (SegWit, where transactions are split into two segments: transactional data, and signature data), which made it possible to reduce the amount of data being verified in each block. Signature data can account for up to 65 percent of a transaction block, so a change in how signatures are implemented could be useful. When SegWit was activated, it caused a hard fork, and all the mining nodes and users who did not want to change started calling the original Bitcoin blockchain Bitcoin Cash (BCC). Technically, Bitcoin is a fork and Bitcoin Cash is the original blockchain. When the hard fork occurred, people had access to the same amount of coins on Bitcoin and Bitcoin Cash.
NIST has presented the document publicly for comments, which Bitcoin (BTC) loyalists and anti-Bitcoin Cash activists are mobilizing to write. The deadline is February 23rd, 2018.
Why Did NIST Take the Controversial Path?
Still, it’s odd that NIST would wade into one of cryptocurrency’s most passionate holy wars as nonchalantly as it did. Bitsonline’s superficial Google search did not reveal any previous comments on the issue by any of the four authors. Did someone else assist them in writing the report?
NIST also introduced its research as an introduction that might be helpful to beginners and business users, promising “to go beyond the hype“.
The war over which blockchain represents the “original” or “real” Bitcoin has raged since the two sides in the years-long scaling debate finally divorced and went their separate ways on August 1st 2017.
Like many divorces, the domestic brouhaha then shifted to division of property and custody of offspring — most prominently in this case, the name “Bitcoin”, its “B” logo, and its $194 billion USD market cap. Oh, and the hearts and minds of anyone who wants to own a token.
The line “When SegWit was activated, it caused a hard fork” is arguably inaccurate. Near the end of July 2017, miners merely signaled their intent to approve SegWit. They reached an 80 percent required threshold to support BIP91 over a 336-block period.
Those who opposed SegWit and preferred larger transaction blocks separated around that point, on August 1st, and created a new token called Bitcoin Cash (BCC or later, BCH). Though the BCH token has a current value of around $1,700 USD, it has always been a chain with a minority of total hashing power, compared to Bitcoin (BTC).
SegWit itself was finally activated on August 24th via a soft fork, long after the hard fork that created Bitcoin Cash occurred. Soft-forking the network meant non-SegWit transactions could still occur, which they do to this day.
What NIST’s Definition Actually Means
NIST is a non-regulatory agency of the United States Department of Commerce, with a mission to set measurement standards and promote industrial competitiveness.
As such, its opinion on Bitcoin and hard forks is just that — another opinion. Official recognition of the “original Bitcoin” by a U.S. government department would not have any legal impact, given that Bitcoin is an open source and voluntary project with no intellectual property or central management.
However it would give Bitcoin Cash supporters more moral weight to argue their case, which they would likely leverage for greater economic strength — and credibility in the public sphere.
In any case, the document at this stage is just a draft and may face substantial amendments before its final version.
Do you agree with NIST’s report, or not? Tell us why in the comments.
Images via Jon Southurst, NIST, YouTube