Members of the Bitcoin Foundation, the trade organization that represents the virtual currency that approximates cash on the internet, are having a series of "educational meetings" today with politicians, regulators, law enforcement officials, and federal agencies including the Department of Homeland Security, Treasury Department, and Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The overall message that the Foundation is trying to send is that Bitcoin has proven itself to be a useful and enduring tool, and that the US will suffer competitively if the currency becomes illegal or too onerous to use under American law. In March, a division of the Treasury Department announced that certain Bitcoin businesses must register with the federal government, a requirement the Foundation says would be crippling for many startups.
"The federal government has taken an active interest in understanding Bitcoin," says Marco Santori, chairman of the Foundation's Regulatory Affairs Committee. "As such, the goal of these initial meetings is education about the Bitcoin protocol specifically and distributed finance in general. The Foundation is committed to establishing itself as the first resource for government policymakers."
"The federal government has taken an active interest in understanding Bitcoin."
Bitcoin now supports an economy worth more than $1.4 billion. That economy includes everything from sales of alpaca socks, computer equipment, services, illegal drugs, to the trading of the currency itself. Nothing like Bitcoin has ever achieved this level of adoption, so it's new territory for regulatory agencies. The fact that Bitcoin is the primary currency on the digital black market Silk Road doesn't help its image with the feds, and there have been multiple large-scale thefts of Bitcoin that have resulted in complaints to law enforcement (and at least one lawsuit).
FinCEN, the Treasury agency that issued guidance about how US law affects Bitcoin, is hosting the summit. The agency has been in talks with the Foundation for months to organize the event. According to the Foundation, attendees will include high-level representatives from FinCEN, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, Federal Reserve, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, and Department of Homeland Security. The Foundation will also be meeting with legislators on Capitol Hill separately tomorrow.
The Foundation is sending four representatives: Santori, general counsel Patrick Murck, Legal Defense Committee chairman Brian Klein, and board chairman Peter Vessenes. Jim Harper, a Cato Institute Scholar, will also be attending on behalf of the Foundation.
The fact that there is now a Bitcoin lobby is somewhat ironic
The fact that there is now a Bitcoin lobby is somewhat ironic since the currency started out as a way for sophisticated users to evade the traditional money system. But as the currency grew, it became apparent that interacting with government would be difficult to avoid.
This actually isn't the first time Foundation reps have headed to the Hill. Murck has been traveling to Washington regularly to talk with politicians and regulators. However, this afternoon's conference will be the start of a more formal relationship. "Our hope is that this is the beginning of an open and transparent dialogue between good-faith stakeholders to find common-ground and develop public-private partnerships," Murck says.