The Australian government is keeping a close eye on bitcoin, but not on the regulatory front. Rather, it is tracking every conversion from bitcoin into Australian dollars, and vice-versa.
The government agency doing the snooping is the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (Austrac). The centre is tasked with countering money laundering and terrorist finance, so it is only logical that it would track anonymous transactions.
Tracking bitcoin-related transactions
Austrac CEO John Schmidt told lawmakers that Australia collects data on all international fund transfers, including bitcoin conversions, ZDnet reports.
“At some point, a person will be purchasing bitcoin using Australian dollars, for example, and then if they are dealing in substances or services, will want to convert those bitcoins back into the legitimate currencies of where ever they are, so they can gain the benefit of them.”
This is where it gets interesting. Because the centre gets international transfer instructions, it is possible to identify transactions made by people purchasing bitcoins.
Schmidt added that most countries have the same capability as Australia, but it is unclear whether they use it. He added that some prosecutions have already resulted from intelligence collected by the centre.
The CEO argued that bitcoin is a commodity used to transfer value rather than a legitimate currency. When bitcoins are converted into AUD, Austrac can identify those transactions.
Bitcoin is not a threat, yet
Schmidt also issued a warning that if bitcoin gains more independence from fiat currency it will become more attractive to criminal organizations that need to channel money around. In that case, international cooperation will be necessary, as Schmidt points out:
“Because they will operate on servers in jurisdictions around the world, and use very sophisticated methods to move and hide their identities. It’s when you have the international cooperation […] that is the answer to being able to stop that criminal behaviour.”
Interestingly, Schmidt pointed out that Austrac is still not able to quantify the size of the bitcoin market in Australia, but he doesn’t see it as a major threat. He pointed out that people are gambling on the prospective value of bitcoin rather than using it for transactions.
“At this point in time, when you consider all the existing threats we face from the criminal perspective, they are not top of the list,” Schmidt concluded.
Australian 100 Dollar Bill image via Shutterstock
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