Hot Takes

This OCC rulemaking could a make a big difference for digital currency exchanges.

Almost two months ago the OCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding receiverships for uninsured national banks. That doesn't sound like something related to cryptocurrency but, as the comment we filed today explains, digital currency exchanges may be able to become nationally chartered institutions via a limited purpose charter from the OCC. That would mean that they would not need to get a money transmission or bitlicense in every state where they have customers. This would be a huge reduction in compliance complexity and uncertainty that may make the U.S. more comeptitive globally as a home for digital currency businesses and, by extension, technologists. In our comment we explain why digital currency exchanges may be eligable for a limited purpose charter:

Existing rules require that any entity seeking such a charter will need to perform “at least one of the three core banking functions, namely receiving deposits, paying checks, or lending money.” Digital currency exchanges do not engage in lending money and do not generally receive deposits as that activity is traditionally characterized. These companies may, however, pay checks... Though no longer accomplished with paper checks, the result is the same: a customer delivers a payment instrument to the institution, and the institution grants that person the value of the instrument in a digital form and holds it for her benefit. The digital currency exchange is paying checks in the same manner that a traditional state or nationally chartered trust can accept payment instruments and secure the value of those instruments on behalf of the beneficiary.

We explain, as we've done before, why the U.S. is less competitive globally in the digital currency sector: 

The U.S. does not currently offer a particularly welcoming home for digital currency exchanges because of two troublesome structural features of U.S. financial regulation that are not present in many foreign jurisdictions: federalism, and a rules-based rather than principles-based approach.

And we describe how these businesses present no substantially different challenges in the recievership context than do existing natioanlly chartered trust companies: 

...a digital currency exchange is paying checks in the same manner that a traditional state or nationally chartered trust can accept payment instruments and secure the value of those instruments on behalf of the beneficiary. Like a chartered trust company, virtual currency exchanges do not have FDIC insurance, and do not engage in the lending out or hypothecation of the assets that they hold for the benefit of their customers. These firms present a similar risk profile as chartered trust companies. Accordingly, we believe there are no unique considerations with respect to receivership presented by virtual currency exchanges, and that rules suitable for traditional trust companies should be a good fit for newly chartered virtual currency firms, should the OCC see fit to grant such a charter.

This rulemaking is a very encouraging, tangible step for the OCC to take on the road to chartering more innvovative financial companies including digital currency companies, and we're happy to participate and hopeful that the outcome will be a more competitive landscape for financial technologies in the US. 

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wences-2018
Save the Date: The 2018 Coin Center Annual Dinner with be on May 14, 2018.

The Blockchain community’s night out is coming back to New York City during Consensus 2018. We hope you will join us once again to rub shoulders with some of the best and brightest in the industry, all while supporting Coin Center’s critical policy advocacy mission.

Monday, May 14, 2018 - 7:00 PM

The Plaza Hotel

768 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10019

Tickets will be on sale in early 2018. For sponsorship information please contact antonie@coincenter.org.

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sec
The SEC today has said that some tokens can be securities.

That comports with the analysis of securities laws and crypto-tokens we issued two years ago. What the SEC did not say is that all tokens are securities. Rather, they suggest a facts and circumstances test but only analyze the facts and circumstances surrounding last year’s DAO token sale.

We believe that applying the same facts and circumstances test to other tokens will mean that some do not fit into the definition of securities, particularly tokens with an underlying utility rather than a mere speculative investment value. Our securities framework and other research explains why this is the case. We hope clear guidance from the SEC to that effect will be forthcoming.

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The judge in the Coinbase/IRS case just granted a motion that’s a win for privacy.

Late last year the IRS petitioned to file a “John Doe Summons” for all Coinbase users active between 2013 and 2015.

Coin Center was quick to respond, calling out the dangerous precedent that that such a petition would create if granted:

The Fourth Amendment to our Constitution protects "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures[.]" It aims to accomplish that, in part, by prohibiting general warrants that give government agents broad authority to search unspecified places or persons. While the courts have weakened Fourth Amendment protections when a third party like a bank or business keeps your information, the tide has begun to turn back. Courts have begun to recognize that there must be some limits as more and more of our private data is stored not in our homes, but in "the cloud." If the IRS can get a summons to search all users of bitcoin, it may only be a matter of time before it can get one targeting all video gamers or all eBay shoppers and sellers.

Now, some customers of Coinbase who would be affected by the summons have petitioned the court to intervene on their own behalf. Yesterday we learned that the court granted their petition. In doing so, the court made some similar points:

[The IRS] contends that “there seems to be a substantial gap between the number of people transacting in virtual currency (for which tax consequences might attach) and those that are reporting such transactions.” (Dkt. No. 28 at 13.) But that argument proves too much. Under that reasoning the IRS could request bank records for every United States customer from every bank branch in the United States because it is well known that tax liabilities in general are under reported and such records might turn up tax liabilities. It is thus no surprise that the IRS cannot cite a single case that supports such broad discretion to obtain the records of every bank-account holding American.

With this motion granted, the users of Coinbase will have an anonymous representative challenging the IRS petition in addition to Coinbase. This means that even if Coinbase decides to drop its challenge, there will still be an interver challenge to the summons sticking up for privacy, and that’s a good thing. We will continue watching this case and advocating for consumer privacy. For now at least, it seems as though the court agrees with our assessment: that the IRS’s petition is dangerously overbroad.

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ulc
The digital currency industry supports the ULC’s model state law.

In an open letter to attendees of the Uniform Law Commission’s annual meeting this week, several major digital currency firms and investors called for the adoption of the “Regulation of Virtual Currency Businesses Act” as an official ULC model act, which states may then want to consider promulgating into law. For nearly two years, Coin Center has been working with the Act’s drafting committee to ensure that the model act not only avoids the stifling overbreadth of previous attempts at crafting digital currency rules like the BitLicense, but also creates regulatory clarity that fosters innovation by:

  1. Fully exempting all persons and businesses who do not take control of others’ digital currency
  2. Have simple and reasonable licensing requirements for those firms that do take control of customers’ digital currency
  3. Providing other exemptions and an on-ramp for small businesses

We are optimistic that the ULC will adopt the draft model act when it votes later this week, and we’re glad to see such broad industry support for the act.

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demoday
We demonstrated how Bitcoin works in Congress.

Earlier this month the Terrorism and Illicit Finance Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing to assess the national security implications of open blockchain networks like Bitcoin. Coin Center testified to explain how the technology works and stress that policymakers must approach them the same way they do the internet--as a purpose agnostic platform that is rich with innovative potential.

Yesterday Coin Center continued its Congressional education efforts by holding a demonstration day event for members of Congress on the full committee and their staff. We partnered with Xapo, Chainalysis, and Elliptic to showcase how a typical user would interact with the Bitcoin network. The demonstration covered the process of setting up a software wallet (BitPay’s Copay) and a hosted wallet (highlighting the important distinctions between the two), the stringent AML/KYC process needed to create an account on a regulated exchange, sending a transaction, and viewing transactions on the publicly available Bitcoin blockchain.

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Pictures from the 2017 Coin Center Annual Dinner are now available.

Our second annual fundraising dinner, held this year after first day of Consensus 2017, was a huge success. Hundreds of open blockchain technologists and businesspeople came out to support Coin Center in what was once again the space’s biggest night out.

You can see photos of the evening here.

Thanks again to our sponsors: Kraken, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, Fidelity Labs, Poloniex, AlphaPoint, Bloq, the Charles Koch Institute, Pantera Capital, Perkins Coie, and ShapeShift.

We’ll see you next year!

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Video: How does multisig make bitcoin more secure?

Coin Center has partnered with the Federalist Society to produce this simple explanation of multisignature cryptocurrency wallets.

Multsig allows users to split up the permission needed to move cryptocurrency held by a particular address. Rather than one person having the ability to unilaterally move funds, a multisig wallet may require two of three (or any m of n) key-holding users to authorize a transaction before any funds are moved.

Read more: “What is Multi-Sig, and What Can It Do?

With this technology it becomes possible for a third party to provide some security for your bitcoins (by protecting one of the keys) without ever having the ability to run away with or lose them. We’ve argued before that companies that use secure arrangements like this do not pose consumer protection risks and therefore should be exempted from money transmission licensing through a safe harbor for non-custodial companies.

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Based in Washington, D.C., Coin Center is the leading non-profit research and advocacy center focused on the public policy issues facing cryptocurrency and decentralized computing technologies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Our mission is to build a better understanding of these technologies and to promote a regulatory climate that preserves the freedom to innovate using permisionless blockchain technologies.