The 21st century is undoubtedly a time of a huge technological leap. Every day, new solutions emerge and some of us are not even aware of them. A good example is a virtual currency (cryptocurrency), based on the recently popular blockchain technology, which is also successfully used in legal services, health care, energy and trade.
What are the cryptocurrencies?
The law is not particularly helpful as there are few national and international regulations in this respect. Article 2, section 2, item 26 of the Act of 1 March 2018 on counteracting money laundering and terrorism financing introduces a definition of virtual currency, including cryptocurrency, into the Polish legal system. It indicates that virtual currency is not a legal tender, money or financial instrument within the meaning of the law, but a digital representation of value exchangeable for a legal tender in economic trade and accepted as a means of exchange. Virtual currency may also be electronically stored or transferred, or may be the subject of electronic trade (statutory definition).
From the IT point of view, cryptocurrency is a digital currency, not issued by a central bank. This means that, unlike the money we know (cash or money on a debit card), the amount of the cryptocurrency issued is not decided by the superior authority in charge of the monetary and banknote policy in the country and in the world. For example, bitcoin (BTC), the most popular cryptocurrency, is strictly limited to 21 million BTC, which makes it resistant to inflation. It cannot be touched because it is only a record in the blockchain network, not a physical object. This record is safe and cannot be forged.
As frequently emphasised, one of the biggest problems in the world of cryptocurrencies is that the law does not keep up with technological development. In most countries in the world, cryptocurrencies are not considered as a mean of payment.
Foreign courts and legislation are very cautious about this innovation, as we presented in the following article: http://kpr.pl/41,aktualnosci/279,sad-najwyzszy-w-hiszpanii-bitcoin-nie-jest-legalnym-srodkiem-platniczym.html.
The inherent connection between cryptocurrencies and the Internet means that they are not associated with any country and thus do not constitute a so-called foreign currency within the meaning of the civil law as this concept is reserved for state payment systems. Cryptocurrencies are global, decentralised currencies, and the National Bank of Poland is not able to determine their value.
Advantages and disadvantages of cryptocurrencies
As compared to traditional solutions, cryptocurrencies offer not only security and innovation, but above all anonymity, speed and costs of transfers.
Currently, traditional interbank transfers take up to 24 hours, and international transfers take up to several days. The transfers are made through intermediary platforms which sometimes charge high commissions. These problems do not exist in the world of cryptocurrencies. In this case, the transfers are made 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, almost immediately.
Another advantage, and at the same time a huge disadvantage, of cryptocurrencies is anonymity. Transactions made with the use of cryptocurrencies are fully transparent. You can trace every step of their circulation in the network and check the amounts sent between specific addressees. Note that the addresses (the so-called wallets) are only a sequence of numbers and characters, which makes it impossible or at least difficult to assign a particular user to a particular wallet.
There are still many uncertainties about the future of the “new currency,” its security and stability on the market. Some specialists believe this is a revolution which will change the world. Others see it as paving the way for extortion and the so-called financial bubble, which is likely to burst soon, leaving investment portfolios empty and giving a bitter taste of disappointment. Nevertheless, deepening the knowledge about the technologies around us and adapting modern legal solutions to them is undoubtedly a good idea.
Aleksandra Bętkowska, lawyer