Nov. 18 (Bloomberg)– The Department of Justice said Bitcoins can be “legal means of exchange” at a U.S. Senate committee hearing, boosting prospects for wider acceptance of the virtual currency.
“We all recognize that virtual currencies, in and of themselves, are not illegal,” Mythili Raman, acting assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s criminal division, said at the hearing.
The Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which solicited comments in an Aug. 12 letter, scheduled the hearing “to explore potential promises and risks related to virtual currency for the federal government and society at large” after the Silk Road Hidden Website was shut down in October. The closing of the marketplace, where people could obtain drugs, guns and other illicit goods using Bitcoins, is helping fuel a rally in the virtual currency as speculators bet that the digital money will gain more mainstream acceptance.
“The FBI’s approach to virtual currencies is guided by a recognition that online payment systems, both centralized and decentralized, offer legitimate financial services,” Peter Kadzik, principal deputy assistant attorney general, wrote in a letter dated Oct. 23. “Like any financial service, virtual currency systems of either type can be exploited by malicious actors, but centralized and decentralized online payment systems can vary significantly in the types and degrees of illicit financial risk they pose.”
Introduced in 2008 by a programmer or group of programmers going under the name of Satoshi Nakamoto, Bitcoin is being used to pay for everything from gourmet coffee to smartphones on the Internet. There are almost 12 million Bitcoins in circulation, according to Bitcoincharts, a website that tracks activity across various exchanges.