The line toed by established institutions
We have all heard the old argument against cryptocurrencies and by now, it is getting quite tiring.
The argument of cryptocurrencies fueling crimes and being more involved in them is often put forth by people who are against using these digital assets in the day to day experience.
In such arguments, these people – that include notable government and financial figures – always emphasize that cryptocurrencies are more prone to be used in criminal activities, such as money laundering or funding illicit operations, than fiat currencies.
There are many flaws in that logic.
While cryptocurrencies have only been around since 2009, money laundering has been going on since ancient times, where merchants used to hide their wealth in traditional currencies to avoid paying taxes to their rulers. Merchants instead invested these amounts in remote locations.
As time progressed, the mechanisms of money laundering evolved and became more intelligent, where people started to use hard cash to pay off their associates – like HSBC and lawyers – to launder their money for them.
This is not just all talk either.
In 2001, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) identified lawyers as potential gateways to money laundering and terrorist financing schemes, that practice has still not stopped and continues to go on behind closed doors.
Central and traditional banks have been trying to put a stop to the phenomenon to no avail. Drug dealers, illegal firearms dealers, and terrorists have all been using different methods of money laundering and cross-border transfers through fiat.
Fiat is easier to launder and move than cryptocurrencies.
In some cases, these bad actors do not even have to go through financial institutions at all. Instead, they use other means of cross-border payment transfers, where they pay one party in a country without having to go through any regulations, only to have their amount instantly paid off in the country of their choice to a recipient that they choose.
This method of money transfer is called “hundi” in Somali and “hawala” in Arabic, as the practice is widely used in the Asian, African and Middle-Eastern regions the most to move money.
Whereas, if a money launderer wants to move cryptocurrencies from these locations, they will not just have to go through complex means of obtaining cryptocurrencies by verifying themselves to cryptocurrency exchanges, but the recipient at the other end would also have to go through verification procedures to withdraw the amount in fiat.
In comparison to the variety of methods that one can use to launder money or supplement terrorist financing using fiat, cryptocurrencies have very few processes in place that could be taken advantage of in these means.
One of the few cases where money laundering is possible is if the buyer has already obtained a cryptocurrency in a large amount which is being used to facilitate a transaction.
Yet, even then, the recipient has to go through some verification when they plan on withdrawing their amount in fiat, which brings us right back to square one.
Research, misinformation by established institutions and awareness
The fear-mongering of cryptocurrencies being mostly used for illegal purposes is mostly derived out of speculation, rather than hard facts.
This is evident by research which used sizeable data for statistical sampling. The findings indicated that during the years of 2013 – 2016, only 1 percent of Bitcoin transactions were involved in illicit means. The research was conducted by a subsidiary of non-profit Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a Washington D.C.-based organization which focuses on propagating foreign policy and national security.
On the contrary, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, around $800 billion to $2 trillion is laundered globally in fiat transactions.
This goes on to show that the information about cryptocurrencies, which is repeatedly fed to the masses to draw them away from these digital assets, is far from true.
At the end of the day, practically every sort of financial instrument and new inventions can be used in illicit means. While Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have definitely been used by malicious parties, so too, has fiat (and way more than the other).
Perceiving cryptocurrencies as the currency associated solely with the underbelly of society makes no sense.
Calling it the currency of “criminals” is unfair, to say the least.
Yet, with the approach that regulators, governments, and financial institutions are taking with these digital assets, it would be naive to hope that this tactic of painting cryptocurrencies in a bad light would ever change – at least in the near future.
It seems as though, these larger institutions think that their lobbying to change public perception in some way, can make these digital asset’s seem toxic.
If established entities are providing misinformation, the onus, then, falls on the individual, the end user, to do their research and make their informed decision.
It is up to them to decide, in a euphemistic perspective, whether they should stop using all the knives in the world simply because someone somewhere thought to harm another person with one.
The fact of the matter is, how an invention is used, largely depends on the human being who is using it.
Not the other way around.
Technology is not bad and has no intention of its own. It is the people who use it who need to be held accountable for their actions.
But then again, hoping that this would be acknowledged in the current climate is hopelessly optimistic. Until this changes, one should just know to be aware and informed.
Remember, people are always afraid of something that they cannot understand, but just because a thing is incomprehensible to some, does not by default, make it an evil.