Munich Security Conference: U.S. Govt. Nowhere Close to Regulating Bitcoin

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, the White House cybersecurity coordinator has stated that the U.S. government is nowhere close to regulating Bitcoin. He particularly emphasised the need to better understand the cryptocurrency’s risks and benefits before embarking on any sort of regulatory regime.

Hundreds of world leaders and security chiefs are gathered at Munich’s luxury Hotel Bayerischer Hof this weekend in what’s been called the “Academy Awards for security policy wonks.” The Munich Security Conference comprises three days of debates, speeches, and sideline meetings regarding international defence policy, and is attended by top world leaders, as well as CEOs, human rights campaigners, and environmentalists.

Speaking with CNBC, Rob Joyce, special assistant to the President and White House cybersecurity coordinator, said there’s a long way to go before the U.S. government starts regulating Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Joyce emphasized the need to better understand the cryptocurrency’s risks and benefits before moving forward with any sort of regulation: “I think we’re still absolutely studying and understanding what the good ideas and bad ideas in that space are,” he said when asked about the potential for government regulation. “So, I don’t think it’s close.”

Bitcoin is a decentralized and digital, and unlike fiat currencies such as the dollar it’s not backed by a central authority. And as transactions are anonymous, the coin has been accused of making it easier for those engaged in illicit activities to hide their money. But this ability that Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies offer to avoid traditional restrictions on money and assets is part of what makes it so popular to those who use it. That decentralization is also much of the reason its price swings so wildly.

“We are worried. There are benefits to the Bitcoin concept — digital cash, digital currencies,” Joyce said. “But at the same time, if you look at the way Bitcoin works after there is a criminal act that takes place, you can’t rewind the clock and take back that currency.” Joyce described the inherent problem with this lack of a trail, noting that in the case of credit card theft, for instance, individuals or companies can contact their banks and purchases can be undone and the cash retrieved.

Business and policy leaders are divided over the future of cryptocurrencies and associated technology. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said it will have to be regulated, while South Korea’s threat of regulation in early 2018 sent waves across the crypto-world. France and Germany are said to be working on their own regulatory structure, as European Union lawmakers call for some sort of control over a currency that has the potential to be used for drug trafficking, money laundering, and terrorism. Further, governments are more uncertain still over what “regulation” would actually look like — from more subtle restrictions to an all-out ban.

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