Senior officials at a top U.S. financial regulator are discussing whether Bitcoin, the controversial cybercurrency, might fall under their regulatory remit.
Bitcoin "is for sure something we need to explore," Bart Chilton, one of the five commissioners at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission told the Financial Times. A person familiar with the CFTC's thinking said that the regulator is "seriously" examining the issue.
Said Mr. Chilton: "It's not monopoly money we're talking about here—real people can have real risk in these instruments, and we need to ensure that we protect markets and consumers, even in what at first blush appear to be 'out there' transactions."
Four-year-old Bitcoin is attracting the interest of regulators amid volatile booms and busts in the value of the cybercurrency and fresh media interest. Intensified regulatory scrutiny could pose challenges for proponents of Bitcoin, who have praised the currency for its independence from traditional authorities.
In March, a branch of the US Treasury department said that all firms that exchange or transfer the virtual currency will be considered "money services businesses."
That means they must provide information to the government and introduce policies to prevent money laundering. It could also make it risky for other financial institutions to do business with firms that are not in compliance.
Since the ruling, at least three companies in North America have reported having their business accounts closed by their banks. Bitfloor, a New York-based Bitcoin exchange, said it was shutting down entirely, and it has not yet been able to return funds to customers.