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Featured Archives: Should Bitcoin Cooperate with Government Regulators?

By Jerry Brito
Reason Magazine
July 15, 2013

The choice before Bitcoin users is not whether they should want regulation, but what to do about it.

As the digital currency Bitcoin continues to grow and evolve, regulators are taking notice. From anti-money-laundering rules issued by the Treasury Department in March, to reports that the Commodities Futures Trading Commission is "seriously" examining the currency, to a recent Government Accountability Office recommendation that the IRS issue guidance on Bitcoin-related income reporting, government seems to be getting serious. The question for the largely libertarian Bitcoin community is, should it engage those regulators or ignore them?

Ignoring the regulators, perhaps with middle fingers firmly extended, is an option, some argue, because Bitcoin is a decentralized peer-to-peer network with no centralized point of control. It exists outside of government or corporate control and can't be easily shut down or controlled. This is what attracts many to the currency, especially a large contingent of crypto-anarchists who made up Bitcoin's earliest adopters and boosters.

As Jon Matonis, the incoming executive director of the Bitcoin Foundation has put it, attempting to regulate Bitcoin would be like trying to regulate the specifications of air guitars. But he points out that while the protocol itself can't be touched, there are centralized points of control in the Bitcoin ecosystem susceptible to regulation: the exchanges that allow one to trade bitcoins in and out of national currencies. Indeed, they are the targets of the money-laundering rules that require firms to report on their customers.

This doesn't concern those who see Bitcoin as a way to completely opt out of state control, however. After all, if you're trying to escape the legacy banking system and government fiat currencies, interfacing with that system is more than a little beside the point. Even if exchanges were to be shut down in the U.S. for regulatory non-compliance, they could prosper in freer jurisdictions, and ultimately the goal for many is to be able to operate on bitcoins alone so that exchanging ceases to be a concern. So, many argue, there's no point in going along with regulation.

"The solution is to create decentralized exchanges and to promote business models and closed-loop paradigms that make fitting into the current institutional structure irrelevant," Matonis says. "It is a perpetually losing battle to seek minor legal victories within the confines of an arbitrary, subjective court system."

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