While the desire to be anonymous online is seen as a blow for freedom, here’s a story about what happens when anonymous cash transactions are no longer constrained by its physical bulk — a look at what the limits might be:
E-gold is a “digital currency.” Opening an account at www.e-gold.com takes only a few clicks of a mouse. Customers can use a false name if they like because no one checks. With a credit card or wire transfer, a user buys units of e-gold. Those units can then be transferred with a few more clicks to anyone else with an e-gold account. For the recipient, cashing out — changing e-gold back to regular money — is just as convenient and often just as anonymous.
E-gold appeals to “gold bugs”: people who invest in the precious metal and believe money ought to be anchored to it. E-gold boasts that its digital currency is backed by a stash of gold bars stored in London and Dubai. But e-gold also appeals to savvy online crooks who want to move money quickly and without detection. American banks and conventional cash transmitters like Western Union are legally required to monitor customers and report suspicious transactions to the government. E-gold seems to go out of its way to avoid such obligations. Its operations are in Florida, but in 2000, its principals registered the company in the lightly regulated Caribbean haven of Nevis.
Law enforcement officials worry that the little-known digital currency industry is becoming the money laundering machine of choice for cybercriminals. […]
[…] Federal officials reluctantly confirm this loophole: E-gold and other digital currencies don’t neatly fit the definition of financial institutions covered by existing self-monitoring rules established under the Bank Secrecy Act and USA Patriot Act. “It’s not like it’s regulated by someone else; it’s not regulated,” says Mark Rasch, senior vice-president of the Internet security firm Solutionary Inc. and former head of the Justice Dept.’s computer crime unit. The Treasury Dept.’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is studying ways to close the regulatory gap. Meanwhile, U.S. officials say e-gold and similar companies should voluntarily do more to deter crime.