Below is a summary of some of the significant legal and regulatory actions that occurred over the past week. This alert is not intended to be a comprehensive list of all such developments, but rather a selection of publicly-reported news that may be of particular interest.
New Hampshire Amends Money Transmitter Rule to Include Virtual Currency Companies
New Hampshire, which has been home to many bitcoin businesses, amended its money transmission rule to include “convertible virtual currency” within the definition of “monetary value,” subjecting bitcoin and other virtual currency businesses to the state’s money transmission licensure requirements. The new regulations draw similar distinctions as those under the federal Money Service Business (MSB) regulations. Although the regulations contain certain exemptions for government agencies and retailers issuing stored value and gift cards, these exemptions are unlikely to apply to bitcoin businesses. The license requirements include a $500 application fee, proof of registration as a federal MSB with FinCEN, and various recordkeeping and reporting requirements.
European Union Ministers Agree to Tighten Checks on Terrorist Funding
EU ministers met following the terrorist attacks on Paris this month and agreed to tighten checks on payment methods used by terrorist organizations. The Ministers asked the European Commission to present proposals on strengthening controls of non-banking payment methods. The Commission is currently conducting a risk assessment on terrorist financing and money laundering, paying particular attention to virtual currencies.
Russian Ministry of Finance Views Bitcoin and Blockchain Technology Differently
Deputy Finance Minister Alexey Moiseev of the Russian Ministry of Finance expressed support and appreciation for blockchain technology, while maintaining the Ministry’s stance on bitcoin as a danger to the banking system. The Ministry of Finance seeks to criminalize bitcoin conversions through a proposed draft law that would subject those who convert the virtual currency to up to four years in prison.
Visa Europe Unveils Bitcoin Remittance App
On November 30th Visa Europe unveiled its prototype bitcoin remittance app. The app allows cardholders to link a visa card and transfer funds to recipients in Kenya via M-Pesa. Funds can be transferred to any Kenyan mobile phone number—recipients need not have an M-Pesa account. The app is based on a proof-of-concept verification process running on bitcoin’s Testnet. The company plans to conduct user research into using bitcoin for remittances, and is exploring ways in which the concept could be deployed.
Estonian Supreme Court Asks Government to Clarify Position on Bitcoin
In considering the case filed in 2014 by Otto de Voogd, the operator of a bitcoin trading company BTC.ee, the Estonian Supreme Court has asked various government officials and the Estonian Central Bank to answer questions regarding the government’s stance on the legality of bitcoin. The response is due by January 11, 2016.
Estonia and Bitnation to Provide Notary Services on the Blockchain
Republic of Estonia announced its partnership with Bitnation, the borderless governance service based on the blockchain, to provide notary services on the blockchain. The Estonian e-Residency program launches in December and will offer notary services to anyone, regardless of place of birth or residency.