The US Senate jumps on the Bitcoin inquiry bandwagon

First NY, then the House and now the Senate, US regulators are turning their attention to virtual currencies.

On Monday the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs sent a letter to Homeland Security for information on any policies, procedures or guidance they have that pertains to “virtual currencies”.

The letter states the committee has initiated an inquiry into virtual currencies, list recent legal actions involving Bitcoin and contains the usual ‘hey were all for new tech, but we need to look at the threats and risks’.

The letter, which can be read here, ask Homeland Security for 3 things to be provided by the end of the month…

  1. Any policies, procedures, guidance, or advisories related to the treatment or regulation of virtual currencies and any minutes of interagency working groups involved in the development of any such policies, procedures, guidance or advisories;
  2. Information related to any ongoing coordination of your agency with any other federal agencies or state and local governments related to the treatment of virtual currencies; and,
  3. Any plans or strategies regarding virtual currencies and information regarding any ongoing initiatives you have engaged in regarding virtual currencies and the name of the person most knowledgeable about any such plans, strategies or initiatives.

Congress directs the FBI to report on Bitcoin

FBILogoThe United States House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies 2014 appropriations bill recommends spending amounts for a number of government agencies including the FBI.

In their 2014 appropriations bill, the subcommittee directs the FBI to report on Bitcoin, specifically what the FBI is doing to address the “challenge” that they see from the “ersatz currency“.

Page 45 of the bill

Money laundering. —The Committee understands that Bitcoins and other forms of peer-to-peer digital currency are a potential means for criminal, terrorist or other illegal organizations and individuals to illegally launder and transfer money. News reports indicate that Bitcoins may have been used to help finance the flight and activity of fugitives. The Committee directs the FBI, in consultation with the Department and other Federal partners, to provide a briefing no later 120 days after the enactment of this Act on the nature and scale of the risk posed by such ersatz currency, both in financing illegal enterprises and in undermining financial institutions. The briefing should describe the FBI efforts in the context of a coordinated Federal response to this challenge, and identify staffing and other resources devoted to this effort.
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New York’s Department of Financial Services initiates Inquiry on Virtual Currencies

NY-DFSThe New York banking regulator has issued subpoenas to 22 companies associated with Bitcoin as part of an “Inquiry on Virtual Currencies”.

Via Forbes’ Kashmir Hill

A subpoena doesn’t mean criminal activity has taken place. A person familiar with the matter says the two-year-old department wants to make sure Bitcoin isn’t a conduit for illicit activities and is gathering information in order to decide whether to issue regulation for virtual currencies. The department has the authority to create regulation if there is no other primary regulator.

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Bits and Pieces Aug13th2013

Critical Vulnerability Found in Bitcoin Android Wallets. The Android software itself has a vulnerability in the way it generates random numbers. Long story short, if you have Bitcoin wallet on an Android phone you’ll want to upgrade your app and/or temporarily move your bitcoins off your phone. Details here.

It looks like Bloomberg is testing a Bitcoin ticker. Abbreviating Bitcoin as XBT, Bloomberg terminal users can now look up Bitcoin’s pricing history. Data comes from Bitcoin exchange service Mt. Gox as well as Tradehill. More details here.

The Bitcoin ATM is now available for pre-order. The makers of the Bitcoin machine, Lamassu, are now accepting orders for the machine. Lamassu will sell the machine with the appropriate software installed and leave regulatory compliance to those operating the ‘ATM’.  Customers in the US are required to sign a due diligence questionnaire.  Prices start at $5000 via Bitcoin or wire transfers. Order yours here.

Why Libbitcoin matters. Libbitcoin is an advanced alternative implementations of the Bitcoin protocol. While there are other alternative implementations, this one is unique it allows Bitcoin users with some technical skills but not necessarily experienced programmers to “work directly with the underlying [Bitcoin] building blocks.”

This may be a competitor to the current implementation, bitcoind and have the effect of limiting the influence of Bitcoin updates coming from authorities such as the Bitcoin Foundation. This may help to maintain Bitcoin’s decentralized nature and has some political implictions as explained here.

Bitcoin is officially Money. The SEC is suing Trendon Shavers for running a Ponzi scheme, the Bitcoin Savings & Trust. Part of Mr Trendon’s defence was to claim that Bitcoin investments are not securities and Bitcoin is not money; last week a judge disagreed.

 

'Digital Asset' businesses embrace regulatory compliance with new industry group

dataAnnounced this week at the Inside Bitcoins conference  the new DATA industry group aims to represent businesses not just in the Bitcoin space but any digital asset including, “emerging payments, virtual currency, and other financial technology innovations”.

DATA, or the Digital Asset Transfer Authority’s founding members include the CEO’s of leading Bitcoin businesses such as BitInstant, BitPay, & BitStamp as well as the CEO’s of other digital currency businesses including Ripple’s OpenCoin and Ven.

However, the groups stated goals seem sure to heat up the regulation debate.

From DATA’s official announcement

To reach this potential, to inspire confidence in the services we offer, and to ensure fair and responsible treatment of consumers and merchants, we believe our industry must evolve in compliance with law and regulation. We must work proactively with regulators and policymakers to adapt their requirements to our technologies and business models. We must develop and implement common risk management and compliance standards that address the public policy concerns associated with our businesses. And our firms must build risk management and compliance programs that meet those standards.

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Bank of Thailand bans Bitcoin

BankofThailandOn Monday, Thailand based Bitcoin exchange Bitcoin Co. Ltd. ceased trading due to an advisement from the Bank of Thailand declaring Bitcoin transactions illegal.

Via the exchange’s site

At the conclusion of the meeting senior members of the Foreign Exchange Administration and Policy Department advised that due to lack of existing applicable laws, capital controls and the fact that Bitcoin straddles multiple financial facets the following Bitcoin activities are illegal in Thailand:

  • Buying Bitcoins
  • Selling Bitcoins
  • Buying any goods or services in exchange for Bitcoins
  • Selling any goods or services for Bitcoins
  • Sending Bitcoins to anyone located outside of Thailand
  • Receiving Bitcoins from anyone located outside of Thailand

The exchange had been operating on previous advice from the Bank of Thailand that Bitcoin was not a currency. However, the businesses had been in the process of registering with regulators in Thailand to ensure that they were operating lawfully.

This change in policy from the Bank of Thailand occurred after the exchange made a presentation to bank members in an attempt to explain the currency to them. The companies managing director gave a presentation on “the workings of Bitcoin, the benefits of Bitcoin, incite into the company’s operations and future implications of Bitcoin.” …I guess he got their attention!

Bitcoin, Regulators and Online Markets – a look at the World of Bitcoin Exchange

forexExchanges are the link between the old world of banking and the new world of crypto-currencies; they play a vital role in supporting the growing Bitcoin economy. If Bitcoin hopes to continue rapidly gaining new users it needs this bridge between the old and new systems to be up and functioning. While Bitcoin is in no way dependant on a link to the traditional banking system, its smooth transition into mainstream use certainly is.

Unfortunately these bridges which make up the exchange market are concentrated and often broken.  This leads to concerns over reliability and security, which can cause market panic and extreme volatility. As Bitcoin enters the mainstream a wave of new businesses, services and software developers have recently dedicated their efforts to solving this problem. Their task will not be easy, and the while the exchange rate has seen some recent stability, there is a long way to go before obtaining bitcoins can be called user friendly and reliable.

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The Real Asset Co: Backwardation, negative GOFO and the gold price

Continuing her look at the global gold market, the Real Asset Co.’s Jan Skoyles explains gold backwardation and how it could mean “a perfect storm for the gold price.”

The term ‘backwardation’ has suddenly popped up in the mainstream financial media and is being touted as the signal that the price of gold is on its way back up.

What does backwardation even mean?

 

Read The Real Asset Co’s “Backwardation, negative GOFO and the gold price

A possible Bitcoin fork? – Bitcoin 2: Freedom of Transaction

Those following the internal rift in the Bitcoin community over regulation have often discussed the possibility of a fork.  The Bitcoin world moves quickly.

Hitting the web only hours ago is a paper detailing the how and why of a proposed “Bitcoin 2”. The authors, and many in the Bitcoin community, are concerned that changes will be made to the Bitcoin protocol turning it into “a distributed PayPal instead of a censorship resistant currency”.  

The paper discusses inherent weaknesses and changes to the protocol currently being discussed which could see users lose the option of anonymity or see miners concentrate into larger centres of control. The proposed “Bitcoin 2” aims to increase Bitcoin’s resistance to centralization, censorship and political control and prevent it from being “absorbed by the established financial and regulatory environment.”

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Bitcoin Foundation Comments on Liberty Reserve Special Measures

After shutdown of Liberty Reserve in May this year FinCEN proposed an “Imposition of Special Measure Against Liberty Reserve S.A. as a Financial Institution of Primary Money Laundering Concern”. The primary purpose of the ‘Special Measure’ being to cut Liberty Reserve off from the banking system.

FinCEN noted Liberty Reserve’s irrevocable transactions and lack of ID verification as evidence that “Liberty Reserve’s system is structured so as to facilitate money laundering and other criminal activity,” these comments worried the digital currency community and was likely what scarred off many of their banking partners.

On the 19th, the Bitcoin Foundation responded to FinCEN’s proposed special measure urging them to clarify that not all virtual currency transactions are inherently suspect.

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