Not only do operators of virtual currency businesses face a growing body of overlapping federal regulations, but they must also contend with a patchwork of state laws as well. Compliance with state money transmitter laws, which typically provide for licensure and supervision of various non-bank financial services companies that handle cash on behalf of consumers, has become a hot-button issue for members of the crypto community. A few states, such as New York with its BitLicense regime, have developed very specific regulations for cryptocurrency businesses. Other states are silent on the issue and have not issued any specific regulations or interpretive guidance, leaving the industry to speculate as to the proper interpretation of the law in those states. Texas falls into a third category of states that have issued interpretive guidance (but not formal regulations) to apply their existing money transmitter statutes to operators of virtual currencies. Recent guidance from the Texas Department of Banking provides a thoughtful discussion of the virtual currency industry and interprets the Texas Money Services Act (the “Act”) for operators of virtual currency businesses doing business in the state.
The year 2018 was a busy one for the SEC in the digital asset space, with the agency cementing its role as the primary de facto regulator of crypto finance in the United States. The SEC’s enforcement division was operating at full speed, bringing a series of enforcement cases in the crypto space with an emphasis on fraud and scams involving digital assets. Notably, the SEC brought first of its kind cases involving digital securities against an unregistered broker-dealer, an unregistered investment company and an unregistered token exchange. The SEC also took action against an airdrop of securities, while at the same time providing general guidance on when the federal securities laws apply in the first place.
In a recently published Request for Information (“RFI”), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) seeks public comment on the underlying technology, opportunities, risks, mechanics, use cases, and markets related to Ether and the Ethereum Network. According to the CFTC, the public input from this request will help to advance its mission of ensuring the integrity of the derivatives markets as well as monitoring and reducing systemic risk by enhancing legal certainty in the markets. In particular, the RFI seeks to understand similarities and differences between Ether and Bitcoin.
In addition to seeking general comment, the RFI includes 25 specific questions, many of which include multiple parts. The RFI concludes by noting that the CFTC looks forward to continuing to engage proactively with the innovator community and market participants in order to help facilitate market-enhancing innovation and ensure market integrity. Public comments are due 60 days after the RFI is published in the Federal Register.
Congressmen Darren Soto (D-FL) and Ted Budd (R-NC) recently introduced two bipartisan bills to address virtual currency price manipulation and maintain the United States’ leadership in the cryptocurrency industry. In a joint statement citing the New York Attorney General’s recent report on crypto exchanges and other recent media reports, the members announced that:
“Virtual currencies and the underlying blockchain technology has a profound potential to be a driver of economic growth. That’s why we must ensure that the United States is at the forefront of protecting consumers and the financial well-being of virtual currency investors, while also promoting an environment of innovation to maximize the potential of these technological advances. This bill [sic] will provide data on how Congress can best mitigate these risks while propelling development that benefits our economy.” Continue Reading Congress Considers Bipartisan Bills to Prevent Virtual Currency Manipulation
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”) recently published a detailed primer on smart contracts. The Primer discusses their functionality, use cases, regulatory environment and potential risks. It describes a “smart contract” as a set of coded computer functions that (1) may incorporate the elements of a binding contract (e.g., offer, acceptance, and consideration), or (2) may execute certain terms of a legal contract, or (3) allows self-executing computer code to take actions at specified times or based on reference to the occurrence or non-occurrence of an action or event (e.g., delivery of an asset, weather conditions, or change in a reference rate). The Primer also observes that a smart contract may not be a legally binding contract, which is a critical distinction for developers and entrepreneurs (and their counsel) in the digital economy.
The acting general counsel of the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”) recently published for public comment a draft advisory opinion under the Federal Election Campaign Act and related FEC regulations regarding mining cryptocurrencies for the benefit of political committees. According to draft Advisory Opinion 2018-13, a service provider has proposed to provide services to political committees to enable individuals to use the processing power of internet-enabled devices to mine cryptocurrencies, with the political committees receiving the mined cryptocurrency. A “political committee” is broadly defined under FEC regulations to include a wide variety of groups that have paid money or provided anything else of value to influence a federal election. Continue Reading Mining Cryptocurrency Under Federal Election Law
At a recent securities regulation conference, Bill Hinman, Director of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance, indicated that the agency intends to release “plain English” guidance around the issue of whether an ICO is a security. The SEC has provided guidance on these issues in its DAO Report and Hinman’s own prior speech, and as we have frequently blogged, has been actively enforcing perceived violations of the federal securities laws. The idea behind the plain English guidance appears to be to consolidate the SEC staff’s views into a single “how to” document for use by the lay person. Continue Reading SEC Plans “Plain English” ICO Guidance
As we have previously blogged, state and provincial securities regulators across the U.S. and Canada have been actively policing the marketplace for ICOs and security token offerings, supplementing efforts at the federal level in the United States undertaken by the SEC. Texas and Massachusetts have been particularly active on this front, and New York recently issued a blistering report on the status of crypto exchanges. Colorado and North Dakota are among the latest states to announce enforcement actions against crypto businesses. Continue Reading Colorado and North Dakota Announce ICO Enforcement Actions
Hunton Andrews Kurth partner Scott Kimpel, chair of the Firm’s blockchain working group, recently participated in a panel discussion hosted by the Washington Legal Foundation regarding the latest legal issues associated with ICOs and security token offerings. Co-panelists included Alan Cohn, formerly of the Department of Homeland Security and Daniel Alter, former general counsel of the New York Department of Financial Services. Continue Reading Initial Coin Offerings: Can Securities Regulators Balance Market Growth and Investor Protection?
Recently, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill No. 2658 for the purpose of further studying blockchain’s application to Californians. In doing so, California joins a growing list of states officially exploring distributed ledger technology. Continue Reading California Enacts Blockchain Legislation