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.

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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