Move over, Al Gore. A new association called Crypto VA wants Richmond to help invent the next internet. Bitcoin and other virtual currencies operate according to a promising technology called block chain, members say. It allows transaction records to sit on top of the current internet, free from outside interference.
That's because the record of events gets distributed to all participants in a given network, not a central party. If tampering occurred, everyone would see it. Some hope, for example, that block chain could expose censorship on social media.
"The uses [of block chain] are limited only by the human imagination, and that's what makes it so exciting," says Carol Van Cleef, an anti-money laundering specialist who's worked on cases that anticipated bitcoin mania.
On March 29, Van Cleef was joined by Jay Spruill, her colleague at LeClairRyan, to hold a panel of local crypto-currency and block chain experts. Spruill says he spearheaded the association at LeClairRyan because he doesn't want Virginia to be left behind economically, technologically or legally.
"There are a lot of questions, as there always are when a new technology emerges that disrupts an existing framework," says Spruill, a financial services regulatory lawyer. "We will share our knowledge and experiences with the goal of educating the public and advocating on behalf of the industry before the Virginia General Assembly and other public bodies."
Delegate Glen Sturtevant, R–Richmond, introduced a bill this year which would require a study on how crypto-currencies impact everyday Virginians. In this mixed atmosphere of caution and curiosity, Van Cleef says "Crypto VA is helping extend the red carpet to this new technology. It aims to establish Virginia as a friendly jurisdiction to developers."
When regulatory talk enters the conversation, emotions can flare. Certain early adopters prefer to preserve the unregulated, Wild West environment of crypto-currencies. Will Middleton hopes to address this culture clash at the panel.
"I am an idealist, however I'm becoming a realist as well," says Middleton, the chief executive member of Block Formation. "Transparency is at the foundation of this crypto-currency movement. So while we should not compromise on the idealism of crypto, I think idealists like me have a responsibility to engage society as a whole, out in the open to discuss the positive and negative aspects of this technology."
Crypto VA's inaugural panel brought out a wide array of people "from a 22-year-old trader to lawyers, bankers and financiers," Middleton says. "Block chain will become part of our everyday lives, so we're seeing Richmond come together under this association to map out the best course of action to really embrace the technology."
J.B. Bryan, who holds her own crypto conferences, thinks that consumer protection will be necessary before businesses become more interested in block chain technology.
"I have seen over the years that everyone enjoys playing the game until someone gets hurt," says Bryan, a financial advisor for 26 years. "And that's usually the consumer who is not in a position to lose their savings." S