Regulation has been on my mind lately – and doubly so since the decision last Friday by Transport for London not to renew the private hire licence for “ride-hailing app firm” Uber. Not that I’m affected personally – I’ve never Ubed in my life. (I tend to avoid UK taxis, as they are not nice to cyclists, and I’m more often on two wheels than four.) But it does make me think about whether shunning a service that is being used – and, more importantly, will almost certainly find a way to continue being used – is the best approach.
Similar debates are raging about virtual currencies. These currencies are here. They work (even if the majority of people, and I count myself in that group, don’t quite understand how). And therefore, of course, criminals are already taking advantage of them. Rather than turning up our noses and saying (as I have heard on many occasions), “they’re not proper financial instruments” and “sensible people don’t bother with all of that”, surely we have to find a way to bring them into the regulated fold – including for AML purposes. Some jurisdictions have already taken steps in this direction; in September 2016 the Proceeds of Crime (Miscellaneous Amendments) (Jersey) Regulations 2016 came into effect in Jersey and brought virtual currency exchange services into the AML family.
I’m not saying it’s simple. You need people who understand how these things work, in order to write the legislation. You need a regulator capable of overseeing such services, and assessing their activity and probity, and also capable of producing guidance for this new sector. But I don’t see that we have any choice. If we simply shove it onto the “too difficult” pile and pretend it isn’t happening, we are creating a window of opportunity through which criminals will vault with great delight – whether that is money launderers using unregulated currencies, or unregulated drivers cruising the streets for fares.