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Our Well-Timed Warning on FTX, Bankman-Fried and Future Cryptocurrency Regulations

This letter was sent to Senators, Congressmen of relevant committees, and regulators in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Securities and Exchange Commission, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission in the aftermath of the FTX collapse. The previous letter can be viewed here.

Referring to the previous letter we sent to lawmakers and regulators on October 26, 2022, warning of the influence and inherent financial risks posed by then FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried and his related companies, here we offer our thoughts on what you should consider for future regulation on digital assets, cryptocurrencies, and the platforms that use them.

As you will have read by now, the alleged criminal actions of Mr. Bankman-Fried and his affiliated companies (FTX International, FTX Europe, Alameda Research, etc.), have led to several bankruptcy filings, will likely lead to expensive lawsuits, and, without a doubt, will invite investigations and questions from your colleagues and committees in Congress. All of these are necessary and prudent.

The halting of withdrawals for billions of dollars of customer funds, the intermingling of company and customer assets, the collateralization of new crypto tokens backed by nothing, and the unsustainable leverage conspired to create one of the most calamitous events in recent financial history. It is a stain on the reputation of creative entrepreneurs and builders providing value in the cryptocurrency space. This is made all the more troubling by the influence of this company and its leaders in our nation’s capital.

The significant influence of Mr. Bankman-Fried and his companies among Congressional members and staff, donations to political campaigns, and the close relationship with regulators present a damning case of what happens when politically connected firms aim to control and shape legislation without input from consumers and citizens.

While decision-makers were eager to meet with Mr. Bankman-Fried and mirror his biased suggestions on cryptocurrency policy in legislation and enforcement actions, consumer groups like ours sounded the alarm about the conflicts of interest detrimental to sound and principled policy for the millions of Americans who use and invest in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

The Consumer Choice Center began writing publicly about the conflicts of interest and risky financial dealings of these companies and Mr. Bankman-Fried in September 2022, and how they would pose a considerable risk both to the legitimate cryptocurrency industry and to the savings and investments of millions of consumers. We remain steadfast in our conviction.

That said, as consumer advocates, we remain optimistic about the promises of Bitcoin, its cryptocurrency offspring, and the innovative blockchains, decentralized technologies, and crypto services that have evolved around them.

Users of decentralized technologies, however, do not need an industry approach to regulation. Regulations exist to set the rules of the game, not to chart the leaders of the game. This previous approach gave cover to FTX and its affiliated companies and has led to the disaster we see today.

The main caution we invoke, therefore, is that many proposed regulations aim to cement existing industry players and lockout innovative upstarts, while at the same time requiring the same restrictive rules that caused many people to explore cryptocurrencies in the first place.

As we have stated, if rules on crypto and its customers help solidify the financial portfolios, positions, and stock prices of only a select few companies, this will drive innovation away from our shores.

The bad actions of this particular company, while shocking and injurious to many, reflect the mistakes and alleged crimes of those involved. They do not, in any certain terms, condemn the wonderful possibilities of a crypto future nor the millions of consumers who responsibly use these technologies.

The frauds allegedly perpetrated are not too far removed from those of regulated financial firms that have deservedly reaped the consequences of misbehavior, either by the market or law enforcement. That the end product was cryptocurrencies instead of credit default swaps or mortgages makes no difference.

Fraud is fraud and remains illegal no matter what product a company is selling.

This is a stark contrast to the system of fractional-reserve banking that now underlies much of the American financial system and creates the incentives of malfeasance aided by loose monetary policy.

We should not mistake the ills of the current system for those of cryptographically secure digital assets.

With that in mind, rather than the approaches of several self-interested industry leaders, consumers deserve regulation on cryptocurrencies and digital firms that enforce existing rules on fraud (known as “rug pulls”), remain technologically neutral, offer reasonable and minimal taxation, and provide legal transparency. Punishing fraud and abuse, insider trading, and self-dealing should remain the focus.

As consumer advocates, we promote the principle of “self-custody” for crypto consumers, holding private keys to digital assets. This is a cryptographically secure method of controlling cryptocurrencies as originally intended, and one that should be an industry standard. This is the strongest method by which exchanges, brokerages, and those who regulate them can protect consumers. 

The aim of cryptographic digital assets and decentralized digital cash, since the founding of Bitcoin in 2008 by Satoshi Nakamoto, has centered on creating permissionless, peer-to-peer transactions offering a final settlement in a decentralized manner. That should be the guiding principle rather than temporary self-interest.

The whims of a select few industry players, however successful they may be, cannot be the guiding light for the future of decentralized digital money, as the saga of FTX has proven.

The Consumer Choice Center created a policy primer on Principles for Smart Cryptocurrency Regulations in September 2021 to highlight these concerns and we hope you will apply them.

We remain at your disposal for any further exploration of how best to craft rules, guidance, and regulation on the future of cryptocurrencies in our country, so that all society may benefit.

Sincerely yours,

Yaël Ossowski

Deputy Director

Consumer Choice Center

Aleksandar Kokotovic

Crypto Fellow

Consumer Choice Center

Preserve privacy by rejecting a ban on Bitcoin and crypto self-custody in Lithuania

Lithuania’s Finance Ministry has announced plans that would essentially outlaw non-custodial crypto wallets – the practice of self-custodying of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies on a wallet an individual controls – and impose stricter regulations on crypto exchanges in an attempt to combat money-laundering, terrorist financing, and sanctions evasion. 

The prepared draft law heads to the Seimas and, if passed, would impose stricter regulations on individuals as well as cryptocurrency exchanges in the country.

This bill mirrors a proposed European Commission regulation that has passed various EU Parliament committees but has yet to adopt continent-wide, aiming to restrict cryptocurrency services and institutions.

“Banning non-custodial wallets, together with introducing strict and complicated measures for cryptocurrency exchanges will introduce unfavorable conditions for the growing industry and will cause a number of businesses to be forced and move their operations abroad – not to mention the harm this does to consumers who want to safely and securely enjoy crypto services,” said Aleksandar Kokotovic, crypto fellow at the Consumer Choice Center, a consumer advocacy group. 

“A measure that aims to prevent money laundering will have very little effect in doing so but will definitely hurt the privacy of Lithuanian citizens and force them to use services based outside of the country, leaving them less secure than they are at the moment,” said Kokotovic.

“Non-custodial Bitcoin and cryptocurrency wallets are basically just code, many of which are open source and can be replicated and forked indefinitely. A government trying to ban code is not only ridiculous but will do absolutely nothing to supposedly stop bad actors. All it will do, in the end, is create a precedent for the government to crack down on its own citizens for using cryptocurrencies,” said Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

“Banning software in 2022 is not only a bad idea that will be impossible to enforce, but will have a wide array of possible negative consequences, including the privacy of financial and crypto customers. 

“We have seen consumers voting with their feet in the past and sometimes being forced to choose service providers in different countries to avoid similar measures. We are still hoping that Seimas will understand the worries around approving such legislation and that they will preserve privacy and safeguard innovation rather than create unfavorable conditions for consumers and businesses,” said Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

The Consumer Choice Center strongly urges Seimas members to vote against this legislation and to preserve the privacy of Lithuanian citizens as well as continue creating a prosperous and friendly business environment for consumers and industry alike.

“We offer the following bedrock principles on smart crypto regulation for lawmakers, hoping to promote sound policies that will encourage innovation, increase economic inclusion across all income groups, all the while protecting consumers from harm,” said Ossowski.

PRINCIPLES

  • Prevent Fraud
  • Technological Neutrality
  • Reasonable Taxation
  • Legal Certainty & Transparency

“The temptation to regulate cryptocurrencies and the blockchain economy based on financial considerations alone, rather than the innovative potential, is an active threat for entrepreneurs and consumers in the crypto space,” said Aleksandar Kokotović, CCC’s crypto fellow and co-author of the primer.

“Penalizing first-movers in crypto innovation or subjecting them to outdated laws will only serve to limit the unparalleled economic growth currently provided by the sector, or risk pushing all investment and entrepreneurship to less reliable and lawful jurisdictions,” added Kokotović.

The policy primer can be read in full here

EU Parliament Risks ‘Forever Stalling’ Digital Innovation If It Accepts Environmental Scrutiny on Proof-of-Work Mining, Bitcoin, and the Crypto Economy

BRUSSELS, BE – The European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs will vote today on a comprehensive regulatory proposal called MiCA (Market in Crypto-Assets). This proposal has been in the works for months, however, last-minute several amendments have been added to the proposal, which if accepted could effectively ban Bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining in the European Union, pushing thousands of innovators out of Europe.

“By effectively prohibiting the issuance or offering for exchange of crypto-assets that rely on proof-of-work protocols under environmental, social, and governance guidelines, the European Union would make a disastrous move that would obliterate not just the nascent crypto industry but also hurt consumers and once again cede technological leadership in innovation to the United States,” said Aleksandar Kokotović, crypto fellow at Consumer Choice Center, a global consumer advocacy group.

“If these amendments are adopted, EU regulators will strike a devastating blow to the crypto industry in member states. Not only will Bitcoin mining face immediate scrutiny, but the entire Defi space based on Ethereum, the rising NFT industry, and hundreds of companies will be forced to close, move or ban EU citizens from using their services. By not letting individuals and companies choose technologies they prefer, EU regulators are going against the principles of technological neutrality and are setting a very dangerous and harmful precedent.

“If the EU wants to completely stifle innovation and financial sovereignty of its citizens, this is the way to go. If it wants to lose millions of jobs, talent, and value that come with innovation, then this is a good plan for that. Otherwise, these amendments must not pass,” said Kokotović.

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, said such a vote risks “forever stalling” digital innovation in the bloc on flawed environmental goals, especially in light of the war in Ukraine.

“The Russian war in Ukraine has demonstrated that Europe has been too comfortable in using lofty environmental goals and ideology to mollify its energy policy and risk its security. By using similar environmental metrics based on ESG to halt innovation for Bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining, the European Union risks forever stalling digital innovation and pushing billions in assets and entrepreneurship off the continent,” said Ossowski.

“Pushing the cryptocurrency industry outside of the EU will encourage citizens to circumvent the law and use more loosely regulated platforms and services, all the while depriving Europeans of their consumer choice.

“Bitcoin and other proof-of-work cryptocurrencies represent a revolution in digital money, especially because proof-of-work is a uniquely strong and fair way to settle the creation of digital property when compared to our fiat money system. The incentives to seek cleaner and greener energy exist because of Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, not in spite of them,” added Ossowski.

“We hope EU parliamentarians recognize the significant folly they’re due to introduce if they deny the voices of consumers and vote for amendments ALT A and ALT G to the Markets in Crypto Assets Proposal that would effectively kneecap proof-of-work currencies in the EU,” said Ossowski.

The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Washington, Ottawa, Brussels, Geneva, and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org.

Is this North Carolina Congressman hawking Bitcoin?

Sometime last week, Neeraj K. Agrawal, the communications director for the DC-based cryptocurrency think tank Coin Center, tweeted a link to an empty website: whitehouse.gov/bitcoin.pdf.

The idea he was trying to convey, in Internet speak, is that hopefully, one day we can look forward to the day when the Bitcoin whitepaper would be hosted on the White House’s website.

That would signal that the executive branch has endorsed elements of the cryptocurrency, and hosted the fundamental founding document to build confidence in the government using Bitcoin as a unit of currency.

That’s futuristic, crypto-fueled optimism that was nothing but a cheeky tweet in that moment.

Taking that to the next level, tech investor and entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan put forward a challenge: which forward-thinking country or US state would host the Bitcoin white paper on their main domain?

Enter North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry.

U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC)

Hailing from Gastonia, a town I once worked in as a newspaper reporter, McHenry represents the 10th district in the northwestern part of the state, home to NASCAR drivers, the mighty Catawba River, and stretching to the stunning Blue Ridge Mountains.

He once represented part of Gaston County in the State House and was later elected to Congress as one of the youngest congressmen in 2004.

As the ranking member on the Financial Services Committee, McHenry has often been involved in regulatory debates and discussions on cryptocurrencies and financial projects, including Facebook’s Libra project.

At least in previous statements and letters, McHenry usually joined hands with his Democratic colleagues to oppose any competition to the US dollar, as we’ve noted in past press releases.

However, it seems McHenry is changing his tune on the future of innovation in the cryptocurrency space.

On Wednesday, he took on the challenge originally posted by Agrawal and followed by Srinivasan: he posted the Bitcoin whitepaper to his own website.

Not only that, but he stated that “policymakers should be on the side of innovation and ingenuity, which are vital to American competitiveness,” and urged his colleagues to join him.

Is this North Carolina Republican Congressman hawking Bitcoin? It seems the answer is yes.

Looking into it more, he’s grown more bullish on Bitcoin and tech-related financial services in the last two years and even clarified his position on why projects like Libra do not represent a true cryptocurrency.

Appearing on series of podcasts, including one with fellow Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw, McHenry has been more vocal on why Bitcoin’s technology is like nothing before, and in fact, represents the future of financial and digital services.

And top it off — he posted the Bitcoin whitepaper on the congressional web server!

If McHenry’s statements are true, and if he is using his position as a Financial Services committee member to advance those ideas, I think we may have a consumer champion congressman to follow in the next two years.

As a fellow North Carolinian and advocate for consumer-friendly policies, I have been critical toward McHenry’s various positions in the past, specifically on legitimizing financial services for cannabis-related companies.

I believe the exact tagline I used was “The North Carolina Republican singlehandedly blocking progress on cannabis banking“.

Obviously, McHenry’s ideas and policies are more nuanced and deserve a closer look. I look forward to him expounding on that much more. So while we may not agree on cannabis banking, there still could be much to agree on with the congressman.

If more politicians in DC and various statehouses approached this issue like McHenry, perhaps our governments would be better vehicles for fostering innovation and helping grow consumer choice.

Kudos to you, Rep. McHenry.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center

Cryptocurrency Regulations Should Not Stifle the Innovative Potential of Blockchain Technology

By Nur Baysal | 12. February 2018 Recently, the prices of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum made new headlines: After reaching a staggering all-time-high of $19,783 in December, the price of Bitcoin lost more than half of its value in January and February, dragging the price of other cryptos down alongside it. During this time, a plethora […]

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