Cryptocurrencies exploded on the scene in 2010 and ever since then people haven’t known what quite to make of this new way of exchanging goods and services – one that, in the future, may take over fiat currency. Governments are having an even tougher time trying to regulate cryptocurrencies to ensure they don’t get abused by criminal organizations.
But probably more important to most central governments is their own financial interests in having a strong fiat currency. In fact, the greatest fear among regulators is not whether cryptocurrencies can be used for making secure transactions or if it has real value, but on people putting their wealth in places where governments have no access or control over. If this happens, fiat currencies will lose value or utility over time as more and more people trade cash for cryptocurrencies, thereby removing its grip on the economy and on people’s lives.
Gateways for Cryptocurrencies
Cryptocurrencies and decentralized blockchain ledgers have very little need for regulations by themselves. Nor do they need any government regulation or human intervention to function properly and securely. Decentralized blockchain ledgers are, in fact, in many ways more secure than any centralized bank or financial institution.
The main purpose of regulations, as viewed by the governments, seems to gravitate on the government’s role as custodians of fiat currencies, making sure nothing gets past online wallets, brokers, and exchanges without proper authorization and identification, which is in keeping with statutory laws preventing unlawful use of fiat currency (FinCEN, AML, CFT, KYC etc.).
Some countries implement even more stringent rules against cryptocurrencies, from banning the creation of new currencies through ICOs, to the outright prohibition of cryptocurrency mining. However, many of these restrictions and prohibitions achieved nothing except encourage more people to dodge regulations by going deeper underground.
These factors make legislation for cryptocurrencies a tough balancing act, since it has to serve its purpose of protecting the people against the unlawful use of money without making it too prohibitive as to encourage clandestine exchanges, creation, and distribution of cryptocurrencies.
Gateway #1: Online Wallets and Exchanges
Governments, banks, and financial institutions came in to “regulate” this seemingly uncontrollable trading activity which involved using government-backed fiat currencies. In order for exchanges to operate unimpeded, they need to implement strict identification and verification procedures before granting certain privileges to subscribers such as increasing buying and trading limits and the ability to link their bank and/or credit card accounts to their wallet accounts.
Coinbase, Kraken, and Poloniex are well-known examples of online wallets and exchanges that implement KYC and other client verification procedures.
Gateway#2: Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)
Investors and venture capitalists (VCs) saw the high stakes of creating tokens using blockchain technology. All that stands between them and making a fortune is finding and rallying the support from people and tech communities through the sale of equities in exchange for privileges as pioneers and early adopters of their newly created coin. In a span of nine years, there are over a thousand altcoins that have been created – and counting. Ethereum project is one of the few Initial Coin Offering (basically the same as a IPO) whose altcoin turned out to be a strong currency in the market.
ICOs has been a controversial topic in the cryptocurrency sphere. From the viewpoint of regulators, they saw the need to impose regulations for such investments because they place a lot of risk on people, especially with cryptocurrency’s volatility, unpredictability, and ICO’s susceptibility to scams. China and South Korea went as far as banning ICOs altogether, and other countries threatened to follow suit if the benefits fail to justify the risks, or if scams involving ICOs spins out of control. Of course, banning them outright is foolhardy, but these countries do need a better system of regulating them just like any other IPO.
Gateway #3: Cryptocurrency Mining
Miners are one of the strong pillars that upholds the integrity and security of cryptocurrency networks.
There are some mining regulations in most countries, while in a few places mining is explicitly prohibited. Regulations can be beneficial for several reasons. Some mining pools don’t generate enough profit to be considered sustainable for business while shady cloud mining services exist as actually Ponzi schemes. In some countries, the high cost of electricity is prohibitive enough to discourage people from mining.
For cloud mining companies, most of the burden comes from excessive regulations pertaining Money Service Business (MSB) or Money Transmitter Business (MTB) which must be complied with to legally receive payments via credit cards or bank transfers, and send payouts to their subscribers. Often the best recourse for these cloud mining companies is to move their businesses in countries which are more receptive to mining.
Limits of Government Regulations
There are plenty of ways violators can dodge restrictions, and fixing all the loopholes meant shutting down the entire network (or the Internet) or reverting to a centralized form of currency.
Whether or not these regulations could prevent unlawful use of cryptocurrencies is beside the point since many countries are still inconclusive about the effectiveness of anti-money laundering laws in preventing organized crimes, terrorism, and corruption.
Instead, governments should be focusing more on enforcing laws and tracking down wrongdoers without putting undue restrictions on every citizen whose lives depend on their ability to use fiat or cryptocurrencies.
People now have a choice. Whether or not cryptocurrencies will coexist as a better alternative to fiat currency or replace it altogether is something which people will have to decide for themselves.