Some facts about digital currency and terrorist financing

Jerry Brito
Nov 19, 2015 · 2 min read

After the recent attacks in Paris, governments are redoubling their efforts to combat terrorist financing, and we’ve been asked how digital currencies might be affected by these efforts. The answer is that digital currencies like Bitcoin, and the service providers that help consumers access digital currency networks, don’t pose any greater threat of being abused by criminals and terrorists than other financial networks. Yet that doesn’t stop the publication of headlines like, “After Paris Attacks, Europe Is Cracking Down On Bitcoin.”

Here are some facts on what governments are thinking about digital currency:

  • The EU memo cited in the article under the “crack down” headline merely states that the European Commission will be asked to propose measures to “strengthen controls of non-banking payment methods such as electronic/anonymous payments and virtual currencies and transfers of gold, precious metals, by pre-paid cards.” Broadly strengthening AML/KYC controls might be appropriate and hardly constitutes a crackdown.
  • Jennifer Shasky Calvery, head of the U.S.’s anti-money-laundering agency, told reporters at an American Bankers Association conference this week: “There has been public reporting of connections of ISIL promoting the use of bitcoin and virtual currencies as a means of moving and raising funds, but I think we are also very focused on the traditional means of moving funds so I think we need to keep our focus on both areas.” Yet, she added: “I wouldn’t say that it is higher risk.”
  • Not only are digital currencies not a higher risk, they may be a relatively low risk payment system. According to the “UK national risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing“ published by the UK Treasury this week, digital currencies are assessed as posing the lowest risk for money laundering. At the top of the list were traditional banks.

The fact is that regulators understand that digital currencies do not pose the greatest risk for terrorist financing, and to the extent digital currencies pose some risk, a “crack down” on their use would likely only serve to drive out legitimate players, which in turn would only serve to limit governments’ visibility into illicit uses. Overreaction by jittery policymakers in the wake of a crisis is always a concern, which is why education before such crises is so important. We’ve been engaged in just such education for over a year, and we’re hopeful policymakers understand that an overreaction would be counterproductive, whatever the headlines may say.

Jerry Brito

Written by

Executive director of Coin Center, the cryptocurrency policy think tank based in Washington, D.C. Views are my own.

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