Policy Documents

Bitcoin: A Primer for Policymakers

Jerry Brito and Andrea Castillo –
August 9, 2013

As the world’s first decentralized digital currency, Bitcoin has the potential to revolutionize online payments systems in a way that benefits consumers and businesses. Instead of using an intermediary such as PayPal or submitting credit card information to a third party for verification—both of which often include transaction fees and other restrictions—Bitcoin allows individuals to pay each other directly for goods or services.

The characteristics that make Bitcoin so innovative have also made it a target for regulators, who fear that the cryptocurrency will aid tax evasion, money laundering, and other crimes. While it is true that it can be used for nefarious purposes, the same can be said of cash. But, unlike cash, Bitcoin transactions are recorded in an online ledger.

In this new primer, Jerry Brito and Andrea Castillo describe how the digital currency works and address many of the common misconceptions about it. They also analyze current laws and regulations that may already cover digital currencies and warn against preemptively placing regulatory restrictions on Bitcoin that could stifle the new technology before it has a chance to evolve. In addition, they give several recommendations about how to treat Bitcoin going forward.

Here, at the forefront of the debate, Brito and Castillo both support innovation and provide much-needed clarity for policymakers and law enforcement.