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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

White House presses regulators on framework for digital assets

Fintech Federal Issues Digital Assets Financial Crimes Biden Department of Treasury CFPB FTC DOJ Cryptocurrency Federal Reserve CBDC Of Interest to Non-US Persons


On September 16, the White House published a comprehensive framework for the responsible development of digital assets, calling on federal regulators to “provide innovative U.S. firms developing new financial technologies with regulatory guidance, best-practices sharing, and technical assistance.” The framework follows an executive order (E.O.) issued by the Biden administration in March (covered by InfoBytes here), which outlined the first “whole-of-government” strategy for coordinating a comprehensive approach to ensuring responsible innovation in digital assets policy. Consistent with the E.O.’s deadline, nine reports have been submitted to President Biden to date that “call on agencies to promote innovation by kickstarting private-sector research and development and helping cutting-edge U.S. firms find footholds in global markets.” The reports also “call for measures to mitigate the downside risks, like increased enforcement of existing laws and the creation of commonsense efficiency standards for cryptocurrency mining.”

Among other things, the reports (i) direct the Federal Reserve Board to continue its research and experimentation on issuing a central bank digital currency, and request the creation of a U.S. Treasury Department-led interagency working group to support Fed efforts; (ii) encourage the SEC and CFTC to “aggressively pursue investigations and enforcement actions against unlawful practices in the digital assets space”; (iii) urge the CFPB and FTC to address consumer complaints related to unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices in the crypto space; (iv) encourage agencies to issue guidance and rules for addressing current and emergent risks in the digital asset ecosystem; (v) urge agencies and law enforcement to take joint measures to address digital asset risks impacting consumers, investors, and businesses; and (vi) encourage agencies to share data on consumers’ digital asset complaints. To promote access to safe and affordable financial services, the administration said it plans to explore how crypto-related technologies can bolster financial inclusion, and will encourage the adoption of instant payment systems, weigh recommendations for creating a federal framework for non-bank payment service oversight, and prioritize efforts to improve cross-border payment efficiency. Additionally, the administration said it is exploring the possibility of amending the Bank Secrecy Act and other related statutes to “explicitly” apply to digital asset exchanges and non-fungible token platforms, and is considering a legislative request to toughen penalties for unlicensed money transmitters and give the DOJ more jurisdictional digital asset prosecution authority.

The Treasury released three reports addressing the future of money and payment systems, consumer and investor protection, and illicit finance risks in response to the E.O. The reports, The Future of Money and Payments, Crypto-Assets: Implications for Consumers, Investors, and Businesses, and Action Plan to Address Illicit Financing Risks of Digital Assets call on regulators to mitigate crypto-related risks to consumers, investors, and businesses. “Innovation is one of the hallmarks of a vibrant financial system and economy,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said. “But as we have learned painfully from the past, innovation without appropriately addressing the impact of these developments can result in significant disruptions and harm to the financial system and individuals, especially our more vulnerable populations.” The reports examine the future of digital assets and offer recommendations to address consumer and investor protection concerns, combat illicit finance risks, and improve the payments system to support a more competitive, efficient, and inclusive landscape.

The same day, the DOJ also released a report in response to the E.O. The Role Of Law Enforcement In Detecting, Investigating, And Prosecuting Criminal Activity Related To Digital Assets examines ways illicit actors exploit digital asset technologies and addresses challenges posed by digital assets to criminal investigations. The report provides recommendations to further enhance law enforcement’s ability to address digital asset crimes, such as strengthening criminal penalties and extending the statutes of limitations for crimes involving digital assets from five to ten years, and identifies three priorities: (i) “expanding to virtual asset service providers the laws preventing employees of financial institutions from tipping off suspects to ongoing investigations”; (ii) “strengthening the law criminalizing the operation of unlicensed money transmitting businesses”; and (iii) “extending the statute of limitations of certain statutes to account for the complexities of digital assets investigations.” The DOJ also launched the Digital Asset Coordinator Network, which will serve as the agency’s primary source for obtaining and disseminating information related to digital assets crimes.