There's a refreshing caveat to the usual warnings about money laundering risks in the Bank for International Settlements' new white paper about digital currencies such as bitcoin:
Some digital currency schemes based on distributed ledgers have the scope to allow transactions to be made without disclosing personal details or sensitive payment credentials. … The attractiveness of pseudonymity and the avoidance of banks and authorities may be partly driven by the desire to circumvent laws and regulation. In this respect, combined with their global reach, digital currency schemes are potentially vulnerable to illicit use. However, there are also legitimate reasons why users may prefer to use anonymous payment methods (eg when the payee is not trusted to protect the information disclosed: this may arise in person-to-person online sales where the parties commonly have no previous experience of interaction).
Might I add: The concern may also arise in business-to-consumer sales as well, when the business is bad at data security, or studying people's purchases to figure out when they're pregnant, or when a financial intermediary to the transaction might be handing over information about customers to the government without notifying them, let alone demanding a warrant.
The atrocities in Paris have reignited an important debate about how best to balance national security concerns with individual rights to privacy in communications. As I've said before, financial transactions should be discussed in that debate, and not automatically conceded as fair game for government fishing expeditions or creepy marketers. The BIS gets a gold star for acknowledging, however briefly, that a desire to make payments without revealing one's identity doesn't necessarily mean someone is up to no good.
You can read the full BIS report here.
Marc Hochstein is the editor in chief of American Banker. The views expressed are his own. If he had a lawn, he'd tell you to get off it. Use his public PGP key to send him an encrypted message at Marc dot Hochstein at SourceMedia dot com.