Tomorrow’s much anticipated opening testimony on potential cryptocurrency regulation in the US has been released early.
It reveals some fascinating insight into the way the Securities Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission see the rise of digital currencies, and what they plan to do about them.
The Chairman of the CFTC, J. Christopher Giancarlo echoes the sentiment of many advocates of blockchain technology, comparing the rise of digital currencies to that of the Internet. As such, he believes the US should do what it can to give the emerging technology space to grow and prosper.
“As we saw with the development of the Internet, we cannot put the technology genie back in the bottle. Virtual currencies mark a paradigm shift in how we think about payments, traditional financial processes, and engaging in economic activity. Ignoring these developments will not make them go away, nor is it a responsible regulatory response.
Two decades ago, as the Internet was entering a phase of rapid growth and expansion, a Republican Congress and the Clinton administration established a set of enlightened foundational principles: the Internet was to progress through human social interaction; voluntary contractual relations and free markets; and governments and regulators were to act in a thoughtful manner not to harm the Internet’s continuing evolution.
‘Do no harm’ was unquestionably the right approach to development of the Internet. Similarly, I believe that “do no harm” is the right overarching approach for distributed ledger technology. Virtual currencies, however, likely require more attentive regulatory oversight in key areas, especially to the extent that retail investors are attracted to this space.
Our task, as market regulators, is to set and enforce rules that foster innovation while promoting market integrity and confidence. In recent months, we have seen a wide range of market participants, including retail investors, seeking to invest in DLT initiatives, including through cryptocurrencies and socalled ICOs—initial coin offerings. Experience tells us that while some market participants may make fortunes, the risks to all investors are high. Caution is merited.”
As for the SEC, Chairman Jay Clayton says he is focused primarily on tracking ICOs to find and monitor coins that operate as securities. He notes that cryptocurrencies that simply operate as payment services are typically outside of his agency’s jurisdiction.
“…I have asked the SEC’s Division of Enforcement to continue to police these markets vigorously and recommend enforcement actions against those who conduct ICOs or engage in other actions relating to cryptocurrencies in violation of the federal securities laws. In doing so, the SEC and CFTC are collaborating on our approaches to policing these markets for fraud and abuse.22 We also will continue to work closely with our federal and state counterparts, including the Department of Treasury, Department of Justice and state attorneys general and securities regulators.
It appears that many of the U.S.-based cryptocurrency trading platforms have elected to be regulated as money-transmission services. Traditionally, from an oversight perspective, these predominantly state-regulated payment services have not been subject to direct oversight by the SEC or the CFTC. Traditionally, from a function perspective, these money transfer services have not quoted prices or offered other services akin to securities, commodities and currency exchanges. In short, the currently applicable regulatory framework for cryptocurrency trading was not designed with trading of the type we are witnessing in mind. As Chairman Giancarlo and I stated recently, we are open to exploring with Congress, as well as with our federal and state colleagues, whether increased federal regulation of cryptocurrency trading platforms is necessary or appropriate. We also are supportive of regulatory and policy efforts to bring clarity and fairness to this space.
The SEC regulates securities transactions and certain individuals and firms who participate in our securities markets. The SEC does not have direct oversight of transactions in currencies or commodities, including currency trading platforms.”
The two Chairmen are scheduled to give their full testimony at tomorrow’s Senate Banking Committee hearing at 10am Eastern.