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FinCEN Issues Bitcoin-Friendly Ruling for Miners

-By Milly Bitcoin®  - December 27, 2013.

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Milly Bitcoin’s Mining Rig

The US Department of Treasury, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) has issues ruling that clears up an issue for Bitcoin mining.  The issue involves whether someone who mines Bitcoins for themselves can trade them for cash at an exchange or spend them directly without being classified as a Money Services Business (MSB) and register with FinCEN.  Many miners were concerned that the rules would require compliance with extensive regulations (see Jerry Brito, FinCEN explicitly stated in a personal letter that bitcoin miners need to register with FinCEN).  The rules could require miners to have things like an auditor on staff making it impossible for individuals to mine Bitcoins and stay within the regulations.

Atlantic City Bitcoin operates several ASICs miners at its facility in New Jersey and asked FinCEN to clarify the rules.  The owner of AC Bitcoin is a former federal employee who worked on anti-terrorism and security programs and took early retirement to work on Bitcoin.  According to the formal Administrative Ruling miners do not have to register with FinCEN as previously thought as long as they mine for themselves.  AC Bitcoin had frequent contact with FinCEN staff and pointed out that if FinCEN had required miners to register they would need to comply with the “Administrative Procedures Act” which would require them to consider public comments before making the requirement.

FinCEN ruled:

To the extent that a user mines Bitcoin and uses the Bitcoin solely for the user’s own purposes and not for the benefit of another, the user is not an MSB under FinCEN’s regulations, because these activities involve neither “acceptance” nor “transmission” of the convertible virtual currency and are not the transmission of funds within the meaning of the Rule. This is the case whether the user mining and using the Bitcoin is an individual or a corporation, and whether the user is purchasing goods or services for the user’s own use, paying debts previously incurred in the ordinary course of business, or (in the case of a corporate user) making distributions to shareholders. Activities that, in and of themselves, do not constitute accepting and transmitting currency, funds or the value of funds, are activities that do not fit within the definition of “money transmission services” and therefore are not subject to FinCEN’s registration, reporting, and recordkeeping regulations for MSBs…

FinCEN therefore concludes that, under the facts you have provided, Atlantic would be a user of Bitcoin, and not an MSB, to the extent that it uses Bitcoin it has mined: (a) to pay for the purchase of goods or services, pay debts it has previously incurred (including debts to its owner(s)), or make distributions to owners; or (b) to purchase real currency or another convertible virtual currency, so long as the real currency or other convertible virtual currency is used solely in order to make payments (as set forth above) or for Atlantic’s own investment purposes. Milly Bitcoin’s Mining Rig

The ruling goes on to discuss that other arrangements, such as mining contracts where mining is done on behalf of another party, may be classified as a Money Services Business depending on the circumstances.  The entire ruling is below and will be published at FinCEN’s web site in the near future.

bitcoinmilly1®

 

 

 

 

Re:     Request for Administrative Ruling on the Application of FinCEN’s Regulations to Bitcoin Mining Operations

This responds to your letter of June 1, 2013, seeking an administrative ruling from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) on behalf of Atlantic City Bitcoin LLC (“Atlantic”), about Atlantic’s possible status as a money services business (“MSB”) under the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”). Specifically, you ask whether certain ways of disposing of the Bitcoins mined by Atlantic would make Atlantic a money transmitter under the BSA.

You state that Atlantic mines Bitcoins. You further state that the Bitcoins that Atlantic has mined have not yet been used or transferred, but that Atlantic may decide to use this virtual currency to purchase goods or services, convert the virtual currency into currency of legal tender and use the currency to purchase goods and services, or transfer the virtual currency to the owner of the company. You ask in your letter whether any of these transactions would make Atlantic a money transmitter under the BSA.

On July 21, 2011, FinCEN published a Final Rule amending definitions and other regulations relating to MSBs (the “Rule”).1 The amended regulations define an MSB as “a person wherever located doing business, whether or not on a regular basis or as an organized business concern, wholly or in substantial part within the United States, in one or more of the capacities listed in paragraphs (ff)(l) through (ff)(6) of this section. This includes but is not limited to maintenance of any agent, agency, branch, or office within the United States.”2

BSA regulations, as amended, define the term “money transmitter” to include a person that provides money transmission services, or any other person engaged in the transfer of funds. The term “money transmission services” means the acceptance of currency, funds, or other value that substitutes for currency from one person and the transmission of currency, funds, or other value that substitutes for currency to another location or person by any means.3 The regulations also stipulate that whether a person is a money transmitter is a matter of facts and circumstances, and identifies circumstances under which a person’s activities would not make such person a money transmitter.4

On March 18, 2013, FinCEN issued guidance on the application of FinCEN’s regulations to transactions in virtual currencies (the “guidance”).5 FinCEN’s regulations define currency (also referred to as “real” currency) as “the coin and paper money of the United States or of any other country that [i] is designated as legal tender and that [ii] circulates and [iii] is customarily used and accepted as a medium of exchange in the country of issuance.”6 In contrast to real currency, “virtual” currency is a medium of exchange that operates like a currency in some environments, but does not have all the attributes of real currency. In particular, virtual currency does not have legal tender status in any jurisdiction. The guidance addresses “convertible” virtual currency. This type of virtual currency either has an equivalent value in real currency, or acts as a substitute for real currency.

For purposes of the guidance, FinCEN refers to the participants in generic virtual currency arrangements, using the terms “exchanger,” “administrator,” and “user.” An exchanger is a person engaged as a business in the exchange of virtual currency for real currency, funds, or other virtual currency. An administrator is a person engaged as a business in issuing (putting into circulation) a virtual currency, and who has the authority to redeem (to withdraw from circulation) such virtual currency. A user is a person that obtains virtual currency to purchase goods or services on the user’s own behalf.

The guidance makes clear that an administrator or exchanger of convertible virtual currencies that (1) accepts and transmits a convertible virtual currency or (2) buys or sells convertible virtual currency in exchange for currency of legal tender or another convertible virtual currency for any reason (including when intermediating between a user and a seller of goods or services the user is purchasing on the user’s behalf) is a money transmitter under FinCEN’s regulations, unless a limitation to or exemption from the definition applies to the person.7 The guidance also makes clear that “a user who obtains convertible virtual currency and uses it to purchase real or virtual goods or services is not an MSB under FinCEN’s regulations. FinCEN understands your letter to amount to a request to elaborate on this last statement in the specific context of a user that obtains the convertible virtual currency Bitcoin by mining.

How a user obtains a virtual currency may be described using any number of other terms, such as “earning,” “harvesting,” “mining,” “creating,” “auto-generating,” “manufacturing,” or “purchasing,” depending on the details of the specific virtual currency model involved. The label applied to a particular process of obtaining a virtual currency is not material to the legal characterization under the BSA of the process or of the person engaging in the process to send that virtual currency or its equivalent value to any other person or place. What is material to the conclusion that a person is not an MSB is not the mechanism by which person obtains the convertible virtual currency, but what the person uses the convertible virtual currency for, and for whose benefit.

FinCEN understands that Bitcoin mining imposes no obligations on a Bitcoin user to send mined Bitcoin to any other person or place for the benefit of another. Instead, the user is free to use the mined virtual currency or its equivalent for the user’s own purposes, such as to purchase real or virtual goods and services for the user’s own use. To the extent that a user mines Bitcoin and uses the Bitcoin solely for the user’s own purposes and not for the benefit of another, the user is not an MSB under FinCEN’s regulations, because these activities involve neither “acceptance” nor “transmission” of the convertible virtual currency and are not the transmission of funds within the meaning of the Rule. This is the case whether the user mining and using the Bitcoin is an individual or a corporation, and whether the user is purchasing goods or services for the user’s own use, paying debts previously incurred in the ordinary course of business, or (in the case of a corporate user) making distributions to shareholders. Activities that, in and of themselves, do not constitute accepting and transmitting currency, funds or the value of funds, are activities that do not fit within the definition of “money transmission services” and therefore are not subject to FinCEN’s registration, reporting, and recordkeeping regulations for MSBs.8

From time to time, as your letter has indicated, it may be necessary for a user to convert Bitcoin that it has mined into a real currency or another convertible virtual currency, either because the seller of the goods or services the user wishes to purchase will not accept Bitcoin, or because the user wishes to diversify currency holdings in anticipation of future needs or for the user’s own investment purposes. In undertaking such a conversion transaction, the user is not acting as an exchanger, notwithstanding the fact that the user is accepting a real currency or another convertible virtual currency and transmitting Bitcoin, so long as the user is undertaking the transaction solely for the user’s own purposes and not as a business service performed for the benefit of another. A user’s conversion of Bitcoin into a real currency or another convertible virtual currency, therefore, does not in and of itself make the user a money transmitter.9

FinCEN therefore concludes that, under the facts you have provided, Atlantic would be a user of Bitcoin, and not an MSB, to the extent that it uses Bitcoin it has mined: (a) to pay for the purchase of goods or services, pay debts it has previously incurred (including debts to its owner(s)), or make distributions to owners; or (b) to purchase real currency or another convertible virtual currency, so long as the real currency or other convertible virtual currency is used solely in order to make payments (as set forth above) or for Atlantic’s own investment purposes. Any transfers to third parties at the behest of sellers, creditors, owners, or counterparties involved in these transactions should be closely scrutinized, as they may constitute money transmission. (See footnotes 8 and 9 above.) And of course, should Atlantic engage in any other activity constituting acceptance and transmission of either currency of legal tender or virtual currency, it may be engaged in money transmission activities that would be subject to the requirements of the BSA.

This ruling is provided in accordance with the procedures set forth at 31 CFR Parti010 Subpart G. In arriving at the conclusions in this administrative ruling, we have relied upon the accuracy and completeness of the representations you made in your communications with us. Nothing precludes FinCEN from arriving at a different conclusion or from taking other action should circumstances change or should any of the information you have provided prove inaccurate or incomplete. We reserve the right, after redacting your name and address, and similar identifying information for your clients, to publish this letter as guidance to financial institutions in accordance with our regulations.10 You have fourteen days from the date of this letter to identify any other information you believe should be redacted and the legal basis for redaction.

 

1  Bank Secrecy Act Regulations – Definitions and Other Regulations Relating to Money Services Businesses, 76 FR 43585 (july 21, 2011).

2  31 CFR § 1010.100(ff).

3  31 CFR § 1010.100(ff)(5)(i)(A) and (B).

4  31 CFR § 1010.100(ff)(5)(ii).

5  FIN-2013—G001. “application of FinCEN’s Regulations to Persons Administering, Exchanging, or Using Virtual Currencies,” March 18, 2013.

6  31 CFR § 1010.100(m).

7  The definition of “money transmitter” in FinCEN’s regulations define six sets of circumstances – variously referred to as limitations or exemptions – under which a person is not a money transmitter, despite accepting and transmitting currency, funds or value that substitutes for currency.  31 CFR § 1010.100(ff)(5)(i)(A) – (F).

8  However, a user wishing to purchase goods or services with Bitcoin it has mined, which pays the Bitcoin to a third party at the direction of a seller or creditor, may be engaged in money transmission. A number of older FinCEN administrative rulings, although not directly on point because they interpret an older version of the regulatory definition of MSBs, discuss situations involving persons that would have been exempted from MSB status, but for their payments to third parties not involved in the original transaction. See FIN-2008-R004 (Whether a Foreign Exchange Consultant is a Currency Dealer or Exchanger or Money Transmitter – 05/09/2008); FIN-2008-R003 (Whether a Person That is Engaged in the Business of Foreign Exchange Risk Management is a Currency Dealer or Exchanger or Money Transmitter – 05/09/2008); FIN-2008-R002 (Whether a Foreign Exchange Dealer is a Currency Dealer or Exchanger or Money Transmitter – 05/09/2008).

9  As noted in footnote 8 above, however, a user engaging in such a transaction, which pays the Bitcoin to a third party at the direction of the counterparty, may be engaged in money transmission.

10  31 CFR §§ 1010.711-717.

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10 comments to FinCEN Issues Bitcoin-Friendly Ruling for Miners

  • JEff Rasmussen

    Great information – thanks for sharing!

  • Very interesting article. This will definitely help people to understand the laws regarding Bitcoin mining.

  • It is idiotic that anyone should be required to report what they produce. Be that lettuce, basil, bitcoins, or whatever. The thugs in government have zero business in telling people what they can and cannot do. This article is a ridiculous endorsement of a violent and evil system bent on restricting what people can and cannot do. I’m sickened. What I produce is mine and I have NO requirement to report to anyone on what I do in my own time with my own resources.

  • MillyBitcoin

    How do you pay for things like roads, flushing the toilet, and making sure planes don’t crash into each other?

    • Danielle

      @Milly – Perhaps you have never been involved in real estate development. Subdivision and shopping center builders very often put in roads, sewers, power lines, and other improvements, because it enhances the value of the buildings. They also often deed the resulting improvements to the local city or county for continuing maintenance, since they are in the business of building things, and don’t want a chain of maintenance responsibilities.

      If we didn’t have a government air traffic control system, don’t you think the airlines and manufacturers would set up one? Crashing planes is bad for business. In fact, modern airplanes have collision avoidance systems built in, because ATC towers may not have the right radar coverage, or the human operator was distracted. The plane is always right there, and the onboard radar is in the right place to see what is ahead of it.

      • MillyBitcoin

        That is not realistic. Not that things have not gotten out of hand with government but many people/businesses won’t support the infrastructure voluntarily if it doesn’t help them directly. When something happens people start clamoring for more regulation and they vote people in that do that. Right or wrong, like it or not, that the situation we are in and it isn’t going to change in the near future.

  • Zeng Phoo

    Its about time the Feds got something right!

    http://www.BeinAnon.tk

  • A lot of people, especially new users, are going to read this and misunderstand its meaning. However, this is an EXCELLENT letter. Kudos to Atlantic. Very nice for Bitcoin miners. I could use a little clarification on how that relates to various pool members. Cheers.
    Carl

  • ermah gerd

    How about in the case of reselling mining equipment?

  • luvbtc

    Perkins Coie, a full service international firm specializing in business law and litigation, and a thought leader in regulation and legalities of virtual currencies use posted an interesting analysis of the ruling.

    http://www.virtualcurrencyreport.com/2013/12/fincen-appears-to-clarify-status-of-bitcoin-miners-in-unpublished-ruling/

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