Libra Could Be Unbalanced by Indian Crypto Laws

Daniel Kuhn
Jun 20, 2019 at 21:00 UTC
Updated Jun 20, 2019 at 22:41 UTC
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Facebook’s rollout of Libra may be steamrolled in India by existing regulatory constraints, reported the Economic Times.

Despite cryptocurrencies’ precarious standing within Indian law, the media outlet reports “Facebook has not filed any application with RBI (Reserve Bank of India) for its cryptocurrency in India,” according to an anonymous source with direct knowledge of the situation.

Another anonymous source said Calibra may be excluded from markets where “cryptocurrencies are banned or Facebook is restricted from operating in.”

The social media juggernaut told the Economic Times, “We expect Calibra to work on WhatsApp and be available globally.” India has 400 million WhatsApp users, according to Statista.

While peer-to-peer cryptocurrency transactions are currently allowed in India, in April 2018, the RBI passed a deadline initiative to prevent certain corporate entities from dealing in digital currencies, due to associated financial and social risks. The ban is being contested in the Supreme Court, with the next scheduled hearing on July 23.

Calibra is a Facebook subsidiary that will provide a platform for financial services involving Libra in Facebook’s ecosystem. The currency itself is developed by a consortium of 28 corporate, nongovernmental, and financial backers. Though Libra intends to decentralize in time, it is unclear how the Indian government may classify the arrangement.

Whatever the court’s decision, the distinction between personal and business use may be moot according to Tanvi Ratna, a policy analyst and fellow at New America. “If the government brands it criminal activity then obviously Facebook is knowingly committing an offence” no matter how Libra is utilized.

Indeed, the current zeitgeist within the ranks of India’s government is that cryptocurrencies enable tax evasion, money laundering, and fraud. A draft bill, dubbed “Banning of Cryptocurrencies and Regulation of Official Digital Currencies Bill 2019,” reportedly received support The Department of Economic Affairs, Central Board of Direct Taxes, Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs and the Investor Education and Protection Fund Authority in April.

Pegged to a basket of fiat currencies, Libra may see further challenges in that India’s laws do not discriminate between digital assets operating in isolation within a network, and digital assets interacting with fiat currency such as the rupee.

“If Facebook were to design the Libra to be a closed system, only to be transacted on its network and not beyond, RBI should ideally be less concerned, since the coin does not engage with the external economy,” said Anirudh Rastogi, founder of Ikigai Law, a technology-focused law firm. “If it is not meant to operate in a closed system, then it is exactly the kind of digital asset that concerns RBI.”

One expert said under provisions in Section 79 of the Indian IT Act, Facebook is already obligated to take ‘all due care’ to ensure its network or platform is not used for illegal activities like dealing in cryptocurrencies. He also said the law is given extraterritorial jurisdiction, meaning even multinationals can be brought to court.

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