On August 9, 2018, the World Bank issued a press release highlighting what it described as the “World’s First Blockchain Bond.” It will be issued in Australia and, according to news reports, will be called a BONDI—both in honor of the famous Australian beach and also a clever acronym for “Blockchain Offered New Debt Instrument.” The issue size is approximately AUD $100 million (about USD $74 million).

Current regulations in the United States limit the ability of securities to trade exclusively over a blockchain, but over time we believe they will become more commonplace as the rules and market practice adapt. More fundamentally, there is a huge potential in blockchain to disrupt the current U.S. trading and settlement process that developed after the paperwork crisis of the early 1970s and is now based on a decades-old business model.

On August 6, 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) published a notice seeking public comment as to whether broad-based changes in the economy, evolving business practices, new technologies or international developments might require adjustments to competition and consumer protection law, enforcement priorities and policy. The notice, published in the Federal Register, does not specifically mention blockchain or distributed ledger technology specifically, but the broad list of topics that the FTC lists as areas in which it seeks comments could easily accommodate market developments due to the emergence of blockchain technology and related applications.  Continue Reading FTC to Commence Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century

Recently, the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (“OCC”) announced that it is now accepting applications for national bank charters from nondepository banking institutions. Numerous consumer groups and state banking agencies have publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with the concept of a national “FinTech charter,” and it is likely one or more of these groups will sue the OCC over the legality of the new form of charter. However, assuming that the OCC prevails in the oncoming litigation, the FinTech charter may present an attractive alternative to certain businesses dealing in digital assets that under current law may be required to obtain money transmitter or similar licenses in each state in which they do business. In theory, a FinTech charter from the federal regulator would, under the National Bank Act, preempt most state banking laws and streamline state regulatory compliance. The tradeoff to businesses that successfully obtain FinTech charters is that they would become subject to substantial regulation as national banks.

We discuss the parameters of the new FinTech charter in our detailed client alert.

In a terse press release issued July 26, 2018, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (“FINMA”) announced that it has launched enforcement proceedings against an ICO issuer based on evidence that the company may have “breached financial market law.” According to FINMA, the proceedings focus in particular on possible breaches of Swiss banking law resulting from the potentially unauthorized acceptance of public deposits. FINMA noted that, in the context of its ICO, the subject company “accepted funds amounting to approximately one hundred million francs from more than 30,000 investors in return for issuing EVN tokens in a bond-like form.” Continue Reading Switzerland Announces ICO Enforcement Action

On July 27, 2018, the Justice BN Srikrishna committee, formed by the Indian government in August 2017 with the goal of introducing a comprehensive data protection law in India, issued a report, A Free and Fair Digital Economy: Protecting Privacy, Empowering Indians (the “Committee Report”), and draft data protection bill called the Personal Data Protection Bill, 2018 (the “Bill”). Noting that the Indian Supreme Court has recognized the right to privacy as a fundamental right, the Committee Report summarizes the existing data protection framework in India, and recommends that the government of India adopt a comprehensive data protection law such as that proposed in the Bill. Continue Reading India’s Draft Data Privacy Law Issued

In a lengthy order issued on July 26, 2018, by a 3-1 vote the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) denied an application by the CBOE Bats BZX Exchange, Inc., (“BZX”) seeking to list and trade shares of the Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust. The denial marks the culmination of a two-year effort by the Winklevoss brothers to launch the first bitcoin-based exchange-traded fund, or ETF, in the United States. In denying the application, the SEC cited various concerns about the lack of oversight in the underlying bitcoin market, and ruled that BZX did not demonstrate that bitcoin and bitcoin markets are uniquely resistant to manipulation, or that alternative means of detecting and deterring fraud and manipulation are sufficient in the absence of a surveillance-sharing agreement with a significant, regulated market related to bitcoin. Continue Reading SEC Denies Application for Bitcoin ETF

On July 11, 2018, in an emergency cease and desist order, the Texas securities commissioner took action against several individuals and affiliated companies based in Utah to halt the offering of unregistered cryptocurrency mining investments to Texas residents. The order alleges numerous violations of the registration and antifraud provisions of the Texas Securities Act.  Continue Reading Texas Shuts Down Offering of Interests in Cryptocurrency Mining Businesses

As reported on the Hunton Privacy & Information Security Law blog, on June 28, 2018, the Governor of California signed AB 375, the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018 (the “Act”). The Act introduces key privacy requirements for businesses, and was passed quickly by California lawmakers in an effort to remove a ballot initiative of the same name from the November 6, 2018, statewide ballot. We previously reported on the relevant ballot initiative. The Act will take effect January 1, 2020. Continue Reading California Consumer Privacy Act Signed, Introduces Key Privacy Requirements for Businesses

While ICO issuers have understandably been focused recently on the latest pronouncements from the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and other regulators, a second group of potential litigants has largely avoided notice. Seeing a potential bonanza, private plaintiffs law firms have become aggressive in soliciting disgruntled investors as clients and filing lawsuits against issuers of digital tokens. Continue Reading Private Plaintiff Lawyers Are Actively Targeting ICOs

The Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and Commodities Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) are not the only U.S. government agencies exerting regulatory jurisdiction over initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) and cryptocurrencies. In an article written by Hunton Andrews Kurth lawyers in Crowdfund Insider, Richard Garabedian and Shaswat Das discuss the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s (“FinCEN’s”) guidance, enforcement actions and related compliance issues. In 2013, FinCEN, a bureau of the U.S. Department of Treasury, began issuing guidance on virtual currency, explicitly stating that virtual currency exchangers and administrators are money transmitters and must comply with the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) and related regulations. Most recently, on February 13, 2018, FinCEN sent a letter to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden that sought to clarify its role as a regulator of virtual currencies and ICOs. In the letter, FinCEN asserted that individuals involved in certain ICOs must register as money services businesses (“MSBs”) and consequently comply with the corresponding BSA and anti-money laundering (“AML”) compliance requirements. The FinCEN letter notes that ICOs that are otherwise regulated by the SEC or CFTC should comply with the AML and related requirements imposed by those agencies. Despite this attempt at clarifying the state of regulatory play for ICOs and virtual currencies, federal and state MSB registration requirements remain fluid and should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis for ICOs and those issuing cryptocurrencies. Continue Reading AML and Sanctions Compliance Issues Facing Cryptocurrency Companies