Bitcoin is about to get some time in the Capitol Hill spotlight.
A pair of Senate committees will hold hearings on the policy issues raised by virtual currencies in the coming weeks, according to Senate aides, a development that comes amid growing attention from government regulators to digital forms of money.
Bitcoin, a currency that is essentially a computer code and is not backed by any government, has seen its value surge this year because of interest from retailers and investors. But government agencies have also stepped up their oversight of the loosely regulated currency amid fears it could be used to facilitate criminal activity.
The two Senate hearings – the first to focus on bitcoin – are likely to examine how regulators are responding to the new forms of payment, the aides said. Potential points of discussion include how financial-industry regulators will watch over investment in the new currencies and how virtual currencies might impede tax collection or facilitate trade in illegal products out of the sight of law enforcement.
No dates have been set for the hearings and the witness lists are not final, but representatives of the government and private sector are expected to testify. The hearings will be held by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs and by a subpart of the Senate Banking Committee, the aides said.
By summoning officials from the executive branch to talk about bitcoin, lawmakers are signaling that virtual currencies should be a priority. Sens. Tom Carper (D., Del.) and Tom Coburn (R., Okla.), the top lawmakers on the Homeland Security panel, have also asked several financial-industry regulators and law-enforcement agencies for information about their policies on virtual currencies.
In an Aug. 12 letter, the senators cited a number of policy concerns, including a Texas case this year in which a man was charged with running a bitcoin-related Ponzi scheme and a May Government Accountability Office report that said the use of virtual currencies could lead to lost tax revenue.
“As with all emerging technologies, the federal government must make sure that potential threats and risks are dealt with swiftly; however, we must also ensure that rash or uninformed actions don’t stifle a potentially valuable technology,” Messrs. Carper and Coburn wrote in their letter, which went to the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Department of Justice and the Treasury Department. Adapted from wsj.com