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印度政府该如何应对比特币这颗“烫手山芋”?

全球各发展中国家监管方不断表达出针对比特币等加密货币交易的忧虑。然而比特币淘金特度却丝毫未减,反而吸引了更多散户投资者,大多数加密货币交易所正竭力满足其需求。

因此有关引入比特币监管机制的呼声渐高。

自2013年来,印度储备银行(Reserve Bank of India,简称RBI)间或重申其对加密货币的忧虑,却鲜有动作。其他国家要么对比特币下了禁令,要么严格限制其使用。RBI故不作声可以说在本质上是鼓励开明的,使该技术在风险相对较低时在市场发展。

此举催生了印度新兴却强劲区块链技术研发相关行业的兴起,而区块链技术又正是加密货币的基石。然而RBI持续保持沉默(似是有意为之)如今造成法律模糊地带,限制了该行业的发展。

如今中心化机构监管着我们日益去中心化的未来,区块链技术代表背离了这一模式的机构。小心翼翼修改现有监管制度套用至加密货币或其他区块链应用中不仅不够完善,而且十分荒谬。

如今,加密货币是否可视作金融资产或投资尚不明确。例如,印度财政部长Arun Jaitley最近几周曾澄清道加密货币无疑不是通货或法定货币。另一种观点倾向于将加密货币视作单纯的"软件",并将所有加密货币交易定义为本质上是软件的出售或购买活动。尽管这种定义从法律的角度上讲是正确的,却相当于将纸币或股票视作白纸般荒谬。

没有明确的监管制度,区块链业就好比是颗定时炸弹。ICO(新型加密货币企业筹资)失败,或加密货币诈欺等行为都可能导致公共信任危机,迫使政府出于政治的考量而非理性的角度迅速作出决断。

其实,这种矛盾已经暴露出来了。印度最高法院推动国家干预监管加密货币之前就已发生了几起公益诉讼案件。法庭支持式干预虽因见效快而受追捧,但对区块链这种需要大量原生学术思索与调查的对象来说并不合适。

这就引出了问题:谁应来监管区块链技术与加密货币?如何监管?

不同的加密货币代表不同的财产,一刀切式的监管并不完善。印度储备银行与印度证券交易委员会等监管方或有权管辖加密货币,这就可能带来更多的不确定性与困惑,甚至在某些情况下引发权力之争。

若将加密货币视作法定货币来监管,其就需受央行或其他各种外汇管理条例的约束。而由于加密货币去中心化的内在本质,即便是在最佳情况下,按现有形式推行此类法规也并不可行。此外,将加密货币视作"证券"来监管也行不通,原因在于符合此种特征的加密货币屈指可数(如某些ICO代币)。

根据现有法律,将比特币是做"商品"来监管是少数行得通的方法之一。例如美国商品期货交易委员会就将虚拟货币商品。将加密货币视作商品,相比货币与证券监管相对简明,因此给予了其交易更多自由。

然而此种方法也并不尽如人意,原因在于惯常比特币用法更为复杂,需要更多细致的规定。例如,有关区块链技术被用作洗钱的忧虑恰如其分。因此全球许多崎岖针对比特币的监管演变为反洗钱监管,这对比特币监管来说可以称得上是已偏离重心。过去十年显然加密货币流动已成功证明货币去中心化这一概念,也展示了其基底技术的持久性。加密货币生态系统如今早已不满足于其早期尝试着,开始向主流经济迈进。因此,对监管者来说,仅将加密货币视作洗钱手段极为短视,没有看到这种正在进行、将永久改变我们货币观的技术革新。

日本与新加坡则是比特币短期监管条例相关较为激进的范例。日本政府迅速消解了持有日元的不稳定性因素,宣布比特币为无需央行额外监管流通的法定货币。日本吸取来2013年Mt.Gox(时为日本与全球最大的加密货币交易所)声名狼藉式的教训,规定加密货币交易所保有资金储备,限制其与客户资金混合,并实行严格的了解客户程序。新加坡监管方泽针对希望通过ICO筹集资金的创企推出了"监管沙盒"。该沙盒模式展示了新加坡监管方的开放性,表明其愿与行业风险相关方共同通过试验并在严格控制的情况下学习,厘清并解决监管难题。

不管有多不便,长期来看监管加密货币的理想方法在于将其本身视作一种资产种类。尽管有些加密货币可被视作法定货币,如今市场上1400余种加密货币不可能均享有比特币般的接受度。那么到时也就必须确立其他数字资产的法定状态,比如说可以是一种价值存储形式,而非法定货币。除却基本概念外,还需建立监管,启动钱包与存储服务、保管服务、投资人了解客户模式、加密货币交易所经理与交易规则等种种服务。

短期来说,将比特币视作商品可能会破坏现状。而中长期来看,将加密货币与其他数字资产视作一种资产属类至关重要。革新先行国家将为他国设定基准。

对包括印度政府在内的大多数监管方而言,确立正确的方法至关重要。区块链去中心化的本质为所有中心化机构留有的控制空间有限,而其跨境无缝衔接又是的单一政府仅靠自身奇思妙想进行监管时分困难。

但区块链网络是基于广泛共识研发而成,任何有效的监管方法也将获得一致同意,至少可在几大主要国家中达成统一。作为崛起中的国际力量,印度有将监管制度朝着适用于发展中国家推进的责任与影响力。

依据比特币与其他加密货币的崛起之势来判断,显然禁止或扼杀式举措难以推行。监管者依然发展其难以适应此新型世界秩序,其惯常使用的绝对控制方法更是行不通。监管模式必须加以升级跟进,否则用比特币界的话来说,就只能被虐。

How should India regulate the ticking time bomb called bitcoin?

Regulators in developing countries around the world have repeatedly expressed concern against the trade of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. The gold rush, however, remains unabated, attracting many retail investors, and most Indian cryptocurrency exchanges are struggling to meet the demand.

Unsurprisingly, the clamour to introduce a regulatory regime for cryptocurrencies is rising.

Since 2013, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has periodically reiterated its concerns over cryptocurrencies but has done little else. Unlike its counterparts elsewhere who have banned or otherwise severely restricted the use of cryptocurrencies, the RBI's studied silence is arguably progressive in nature, letting the technology play out in the market while the stakes are relatively low.

This has allowed the emergence of a nascent yet vibrant industry in India centred around developing blockchain technology, which underlies cryptocurrencies. However, the RBI's continued silence (by design it seems), is now stalling the growth of the industry by creating legal ambiguity.

Blockchain technology represents a critical departure from the centralised institutions which currently regulate us today to a more decentralised future. Attempts to gingerly retrofit existing regulations on cryptocurrencies, or other blockchain-based applications, will not only prove to be inadequate but philosophically are an absurd choice.

Today, it is unclear if cryptocurrencies may even be considered financial assets or investments. For instance, India's finance minister Arun Jaitley clarified in recent weeks that cryptocurrencies are definitely not "currency" or legal tender. Another approach favours interpreting cryptocurrencies merely as "software" and labelling all cryptocurrency transactions as essentially the sale or purchase of software. Although this definition does ring true from a legal standpoint, it is akin to calling currency notes or share certificates paper.

Without clear regulation, the blockchain industry is like a ticking time bomb. Anything from a failed initial coin offering (or ICO, where funds are raised for new cryptocurrency ventures) to a rogue cryptocurrency exchange will result in a public confidence crisis, forcing the government to take a quick decision that may be more politically motivated than it is grounded in reason. This tension has already manifested itself in the form of multiple public interest litigations before India's supreme court to facilitate state intervention to regulate cryptocurrencies. Court-sponsored interventions, although popular for quick results, are ill suited for a subject like blockchain, which requires considerable original academic thought and investigation.

This begs the question: who should regulate blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies, and how should it be done?

Since different cryptocurrencies can exhibit different properties, broad-brush regulation will prove to be inadequate. Multiple regulators such as the RBI and the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) will likely have jurisdiction over cryptocurrencies, potentially causing more uncertainty and confusion-and, in some cases, a turf war.

If regulated as a fiat currency, cryptocurrencies will be subject to the control of a central bank as well as, among others, various foreign exchange regulations. Owing to its inherent decentralised nature, enforcing either of these regulations in their current form will be impractical at best. Moreover, regulating cryptocurrencies as a "security" is also a dead-end as very few forms of cryptocurrencies (such as certain ICO tokens) will mirror such features.

Ultimately, being regulated as a "commodity" remains, under extant laws, one of the few viable ways to regulate cryptocurrencies. The US Commodities and Futures Trading Commission, for example, considers virtual currencies as commodities. And its treatment as commodities allows more freedom in dealing with cryptocurrencies as they are regulated less onerously, in comparison to currencies and securities.

This approach, however, leaves much to be desired as the traditional use-cases for cryptocurrencies are more complex and require more nuanced regulation. For instance, there is well-placed concern around blockchain technology being used for money-laundering purposes. And unfortunately for much of the world, bitcoin regulation has been reduced to anti-money-laundering regulation, which as a regulatory response to cryptocurrencies basically misses the plot. In the past ten years it is clear that the cryptocurrency movement has successfully demonstrated both the decentralisation of money as a concept, as well as the durability of the technology that powers it. The cryptocurrency ecosystem is now charging through the mainstream economy, having long grown past its early-adopters. For regulators, therefore, treating cryptocurrencies merely as objects that facilitate money-laundering is an incredibly myopic view of the technological disruption that is well on its way to forever changing our understanding of money.

A progressive example of short-term regulation is being set by Japan and Singapore. The Japanese have quickly shed insecurities around "preserving" the Yen and gone on to declare bitcoin as legal tender without the excess baggage of central bank control on circulation. Having learnt from the infamous collapse of Mt.Gox in 2013 (then Japan's and the world's largest cryptocurrency exchange), Japan has mandated cryptocurrency exchanges to maintain capital reserves, restricted co-mingling of customer funds, and implemented stringent know-your-customer procedures. In Singapore, its regulator is offering a "regulatory sandbox" to innovative businesses that wish to raise funds in an ICO. The sandbox approach shows the openness of the Singaporean regulator to work with industry stake-holders in jointly figuring-out and solving for regulatory difficulties by experimenting and learning in a closely-controlled setting.

Howsoever inconvenient, the ideal approach to regulating cryptocurrencies in the long term will be to treat them as an asset-class of their own. While some may be given the status of legal tender, it is unlikely that all the 1400-odd "cryptocurrencies" on the market today will gain acceptance that is comparable to bitcoin. It then becomes imperative to decide what should be the legal status of these other digital assets that are, say, only a store of value, but not a legal tender. Apart from the basics, there will also be a need to build regulations for enabling services such as wallet and storage services, custodian services, KYC norms for investors, brokerage and trading rules for cryptocurrency exchanges, etc.

In the short term, regulating it as a commodity may rock the boat. But in the medium to long term, it is essential that cryptocurrencies and other digital assets are regulated as an asset class of their own. And governments that move progressively and move early will set benchmarks for others.

For most regulators, including the Indian government, it will be essential to develop the right approach. The decentralised nature of blockchain will allow very limited control to any centralized institutions, and their seamless application across borders will also make it difficult for a solitary government to regulate it as per its own whims and fancies.

But blockchain networks are built on widespread consensus and any effective regulation will also be through consensus-at least amongst major world governments. As a rising global power, India has both the responsibility and the influence to move regulations in a manner that suits the developing world.

If the rise of bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies are anything to go by, it is clear that bans or other stifling measures will be difficult to enforce. Regulators are already finding it tough to adjust to the new world order and let go of the absolute control they are so used to exercising. Regulatory models will either have to evolve, or as the Bitcoin community puts it, risk getting #Rekt!


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