The cryptocurrency industry has been envisioning digital coins as an alternate finance world that operates outside the control of big banks and government regulators. As digital currencies like Bitcoin and Ether became more popular, the crypto industry has hit a legal hurdle with the Howey Test. This legal analysis determines when a financial product becomes subject to the same strict rules as stocks and bonds.
The crypto industry has fought back and found itself in a gray legal zone with an uncertain future in the United States. Federal judges recently weighed in on a series of lawsuits by the nation’s top securities regulator against some of the largest crypto firms. Precedent-setting rulings are expected in the coming weeks.
The court fights over the last 18 months have seen the Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) suing crypto companies for operating as unregulated securities businesses. Both sides have had early court victories, but encounters with the commission have become more decisive. Judges held hearings in cases against crypto exchanges Coinbase and Binance, which could be central in the broader legal battle, with preliminary rulings expected soon.
The S.E.C.’s lawsuit against Ripple had received significant attention, and in a July ruling, a federal judge in New York ruled that Ripple’s cryptocurrency did not qualify as a security. In contrast, a judge in another case endorsed the S.E.C.’s view that a different set of cryptocurrencies qualified as securities, casting uncertainty.
This is when federal judges held hearings in cases against Coinbase and Binance, which serve as marketplaces for dozens of digital currencies. Both cases revolve around the applicability of the Howey Test to digital currencies. While lawyers for Coinbase have criticized the S.E.C. for trying to stretch the intent of the Howey Test to cover crypto investments, lawyers for Ripple have expressed concern about the S.E.C.’s strategy and pressed the government lawyers to explain the boundaries of their argument.
The battle has become crucial for the future of the crypto industry in the U.S. If the S.E.C. prevails, it will likely stifle the growth of the industry. On the other hand, the government insists that robust oversight is necessary to prevent rampant fraud in the crypto market.
It remains to be seen what the decisions in these cases will mean for the future of the cryptocurrency industry in the U.S.