Announced 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.
This would seem to suggest a willingness to alter software protocols to appease authorities. Many in the Bitcoin community, such as the Bitcoin 2 authors, have been fearing such proposals and the possibility that they will lead to Bitcoin being watered down and absorbed by the current financial establishment.
For example, an elimination of Bitcoin irreversibility which could transform it into simply a PayPay 2.0, or as the Bitcoin Foundation’s Jon Matonis put it “Govcoin”. In a new post for American Banker, Don’t Let Bitcoin Morph into Govcoin, Jon expresses his concern with an over eagerness of industry organizations to appease regulators.
Although SROs can be extremely beneficial in advancing an industry, clear political lines must be drawn to mitigate the risk that an SRO would be co-opted by government and this is where it gets tricky. To avoid more direct and onerous regulations, the government may ask the SRO for certain guidelines or rules to be incorporated among its membership. If such modifications are objectionable to the majority of industry participants, the SRO faces the dilemma of challenging the authorities and risking its relevance or being complicit in harmful and over-reaching backdoor legislation.
The path of complicity ultimately leads to an SRO that has strayed from its core constituency and could be absorbed by the government as a direct regulatory body. The SRO should periodically conduct a reality check by remembering Voltaire’s words: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”