Monday, March 15, 2021

The Alt-Currency Martyr

By Brian Doherty
Reason Magazine
Monday, March 15, 2021

In the mid-1990s, just before the arrival of PayPal and more than a decade before bitcoin, an oncologist from Florida named Douglas Jackson created a system by which people could send each other digital payment tokens backed by gold. Jackson's e-gold became the world's first truly successful digital currency, serving over half a million customers and doing billions of dollars' worth of business.

But after a decade of success, the feds came after him, raiding his company's office, taking computers, freezing bank accounts, and ultimately extracting a guilty plea for conspiring in an "unlicensed money transmitting business." Once trailblazing, e-gold was quickly forgotten, derailed first by legal hassles and then by the tsunami of interest in blockchain technology.

Now Jackson has uncovered information that he thinks can not only overturn his conviction, and thus ease the path to him restarting his business, but help wean alt-currency from what he regards as a ruinous addiction to Satoshi Nakamoto's brainchild. While the value the markets place on cryptocurrency keeps rising precipitously and no e-currency model closely emulating e-gold has grabbed significant market share in its wake, Jackson remains convinced that if he could only get back in the game, things would be very different. The guilty plea that he now insists was squeezed from him through government trickery blocks his doing legal business in the e-currency space.

"It's as if I'm the only person in the world not allowed to go and compete in this area where I'd pioneered the industry," he says. "It's like everything came off the rails and it's been a decade of unprecedented malinvestment."