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U.S. agency’s virtual currency oversight faces court challenge

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BOSTON (Reuters) – An obscure virtual currency called My Big Coin is now at the center of a closely watched case that could determine whether the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission has the authority to combat fraud associated with cryptocurrencies.

FILE PHOTO: Cryptocurrency miners are seen on racks at the HydroMiner cryptocurrency farming operation near Waidhofen an der Ybbs, Austria, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

Amid a crackdown on virtual currency scams, the U.S. regulator in January sued technology entrepreneur Randall Crater and a company he founded, alleging they perpetrated a $6 million fraud on people who wanted to buy My Big Coin.

Lawyers not involved in the lawsuit say that Crater’s case raises a novel challenge to CFTC oversight of cryptocurrencies, which are not backed by any central bank.

His lawyers argue the CFTC has no authority over the virtual currency because it is not a commodity like wheat or cotton or a service that is traded using futures contracts, the typical focus of the agency’s enforcement regime.

FILE PHOTO: A cryptocurrency mining computer is seen in front of bitcoin logo during the annual Computex computer exhibition in Taipei, Taiwan, June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo

“Our argument boils down to the fact that because My Big Coin does not have future contracts or other derivatives trading on it, it is not a commodity,” said Katherine Cooper, a lawyer for Crater.

Lawyers watching the case say a ruling against the CFTC could affect its ability to police virtual currency frauds as the only one on which futures contracts are traded in the United States is bitcoin, whose user base of millions dwarfs that of My Big Coin.

“It would have a chilling effect on the CFTC’s application of its powers in this area,” said Gregory Kaufman, a lawyer with the law firm Eversheds Sutherland.

U.S. District Judge Rya Zobel in Boston is set to hear arguments in the case on Thursday. The CFTC declined comment.

Bitcoin, the most popular virtual currency, and nearly 1,630 others exist have a market capitalization of $276.6 billion, according to cryptocurrency market data site Coinmarketcap.

Regulators have expressed concerns about fraud schemes targeting cryptocurrency users, but questions linger about who has jurisdiction over them.

FILE PHOTO: A worker checks the fans on miners, at the cryptocurrency farming operation, Bitfarms, in Farnham, Quebec, Canada, February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi/File Photo

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has claimed authority over so-called initial coin offerings in which companies sell digital tokens to raise money. A federal judge in Brooklyn is now weighing whether cryptocurrencies can be considered securities.

To date, the CFTC has announced eight cryptocurrency-related cases.

In its lawsuit against Crater and Nevada-based My Big Coin Pay Inc, the CFTC says the defendants misappropriated $6 million from 28 customers they lured by naming their virtual currency to sound like bitcoin and further claiming it was backed by gold.

Lawyers for Crater contend, however, that My Big Coin is not a “commodity” under the Commodity Exchange Act because it is neither a tangible good nor a service on which future contracts are being traded.

The CFTC notes that in March, a federal judge in a different case, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein in Brooklyn, ruled for the first time that virtual currencies can be regulated by the agency as a commodity.

But Crater’s attorneys counter that ruling involved bitcoin, for which futures are traded.

Neal Kumar, a lawyer at the law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, said Crater may still lose because the Commodity Exchange Act defines services as commodities not just when they currently have futures contracts associated with them but in the future could.

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Australians Can Pay Utility Bills With Bitcoin (BTC)

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Bitcoin (BTC)–In terms of adoption for cryptocurrency, being able to pay for real world goods and services with the digital currency has long been viewed as the gold standard. The bear market of 2018 has led to a shift in focus away from the fundamentals of crypto and the usability of blockchain transactions in favor of wild price speculation. However, an Australian-based partnership is attempting to provide a solution for customers looking to pay their utility bills with cryptocurrency.

Cryptocurrency exchange Cointree announced a joint-venture with billing platform Gobbill to give Australian customers the opportunity to pay their utility bills with cryptocurrency. The goal of the union is to provide a solution for automated billing via crypto, with Gobbill functioning as the intermediary in the exchange, taking user funds in crypto and making the payment in fiat.

Using the Cointree wallet, users of the cryptocurrency exchange will be able to convert stored coins automatically into utility bill payments, giving customers the opportunity to pay in BTC, XRP, and nearly 40 other currencies. While Australian utility companies will not be accepting crypto directly for payment (the exchange involves a conversion to fiat), it does represent a way for Australian crypto users to get around having to cash out of their denomination on exchanges to free up funds for utility payment. The service is being aimed at small businesses and average investors, with the co-founder and CEO of Gobbill, Shendon Ewans, expounding upon the planned form of payment,

“We anticipate a surge in the number of customers who would like to pay their bills in crypto in the coming years. Our partnership with Cointree will cater to this market and ensure Gobbill continues to remain ahead of the curve when it comes to allowing our users to pay their bills automatically, while knowing they’re protected from fraud and scams.”

According to Ewans, Gobbill views this partnership with Cointree as getting ahead of the curve, a refrain we have heard several times from tangential businesses attempting to capitalize on cryptocurrency. By offering a service that automatically takes payments in cryptocurrency, Gobbill is exposing itself to the growing, and vocal, userbase of cryptocurrency, in addition to paving a future for their company that involves a takeoff in the digital currencies.

Cointree also sees partnerships for bill payments and automatic drafting as a way to increase their customer base, with efforts already enacted for several years on the front of crypto-to-bill payment. Jess Rendon, operations manager of Cointree, reported that the company has processed $100 million in bills paid in 2017,

“Last year alone we had about AU$100 million of bills paid and saw ten times growth in this payment feature.

CCN reports that paying bills with cryptocurrency has seen an explosion in Australia over the last several years, having grown by 3300% in a three-year period. While the system devised by Gobbill is still a step removed from utility companies accepting Bitcoin and altcoins directly, it does provide another avenue for investors looking to use their coins outside of exchange speculation.

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Bakkt CEO: ‘With Our Solution, the Buying and Selling of Bitcoin Is Fully Collateralized or Pre-Funded’

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On Monday (20 August 2018), Bakkt, the new company announced by Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) on 3 August 2018, declared that with its solution, “the buying and selling of bitcoin is fully collateralized or pre-funded.”

ICE’s press release mentioned that Bakkt would be offering a one-day phsyically-delivered Bitcoin futures product:

“As an initial component of the Bakkt offering, Intercontinental Exchange’s U.S.-based futures exchange and clearing house plan to launch a 1-day physically delivered Bitcoin contract along with physical warehousing in November 2018, subject to CFTC review and approval. These regulated venues will establish new protocols for managing the specific security and settlement requirements of digital currencies.”

This is how Bakkt announced today’s news on Twitter:

Kelly Loeffler, the CEO of Bakkt, provided more details in a post on Bakkt’s Medium blog.

Loeffler started by saying that to achieve a “trusted infrastructure for trading, storing and spending digital currencies”, Bakkt would need to provide:

  • “a consistent regulatory construct”;
  • “transparent, efficient price discovery”; and
  • “an institutional quality pre- and post-trade infrastructure”

She then moved to the “meat” of Bakkt’s announcement:

“A critical element to price discovery is physical delivery. Specifically, with our solution, the buying and selling of Bitcoin is fully collateralized or pre-funded. As such, our new daily Bitcoin contract will not be traded on margin, use leverage, or serve to create a paper claim on a real asset.”

She noted that this provided support for market integrity and differentiated them from other exchanges which “allow for margin, leverage and cash settlement.” She went on to say that once you take into account the fact that Bakkt also provides “a secure, regulated warehouse solution”, it was easy to see how this infrastructure could “help more institutions and consumers participate in the asset class.”

For many crypto traders/investors and analysts, what Bakkt announced today sounded great. However, not everyone was equally excited.

Caitlin Long, 22-year Wall Street veteran (including over eight years at U.S. investment bank Morgan Stanley) who has been active in Bitcoin since 2012, expressed her concern about “financialization” (i.e. when an asset class becomes investable by large institutional investors) of cryptocurrencies, and especially her worries about “leverage-based financialization” (which arises “either from the issuance of more assets out of thin air to dilute existing holders, or from the creation of more claims to the asset than there are assets”) in an article for Forbes published on 31 July 2018.

Upon hearing Bakkt’s announcement earlier today, she sent out the following tweets to explain that although the confirmation that Bakkt’s daily Bitcoin contract would not be traded on margin, use leverage, or serve to create a paper claim on a real asset” was a good thing, she still had a few reservations:

 

 

 

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Biometric Cryptocurrency Card Protects Bitcoin with Fingerprints

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Unikeys has officially announced its UKey cryptocurrency card.

In form, it’s shaped like any other regular payment card. But it’s designed to host multiple popular cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ether, and Litecoin. What’s more, it features an embedded fingerprint sensor. Once a user’s fingerprint data has been registered and stored in the card’s Secure Element, the card is then able to biometrically authenticate the user for each transaction, ensuring a high level of security.

The biometric component is the product of a collaboration between Unikeys and Hong Kong-based MeReal Biometrics, which obtained its fingerprint sensor technology from Sweden’s Fingerprint Cards. Fingerprint Cards has been very busy in recent months seeking to secure a leading position in the biometric cards market as major financial services brands like Visa and Mastercard prepare for mass commercialization of this kind of technology; Unikeys, for its part, is ahead of the curve.

Of course, a key to success for the latter company will be establishing merchant support for its card’s cryptocurrency payments, and as RFID Journal reports, Unikeys is currently in talks with “several companies” concerning this issue. Unikeys’ CEO says the company is also planning to launch a pilot for its solution in Hong Kong, though details about the project are forthcoming.

Biometric Cryptocurrency Card Protects Bitcoin with Fingerprints

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