Articles Posted in FINCEN

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2013 was an incredibly active year for social media legal issues. Below are selected highlights on some of the more interesting legal issues that impacted social media, along with links to reference material relating to the topics.

1. Virtual Currency/Bitcoin

FinCEN Virtual Currency Guidance and Enforcements – FinCEN published legal guidance  on virtual currency making clear that existing regulations regarding money transmitter and anti-money laundering laws apply to certain virtual currency activities. Shortly after issuance of the guidelines,
a wave of enforcements shut down non-complying entities. [BLOG]

Congressional Hearings on Virtual Currency – Congressional hearings were surprisingly more friendly and receptive of Bitcoin and other virtual currencies.

2. Privacy – Guidance and Enforcements

COPPA – The FTC issued new guidance
and FAQs for children’s online protection due to evolving technology and changes in the way children use and access the Internet, mobile devices and social media.

CA Privacy Law
– California passed new privacy laws.

3. Intellectual Property/Patents

Patents – The number of social media patent filings continued to increase. The America Invents Act (AIA) fully kicked in, providing a greater ability to challenge patents believed to be invalid without going through district court litigation. The Fast Track
process to get patents issued more rapidly (often in less than a year)
continued.

Ownership of Social Media Accounts and Followers – Despite a number of cases (including ones involving LinkedIn and Twitter) relating to ownership of social media accounts, the law remained murky and fact specific.
This uncertainty can be avoided by proper attention to social media policies before issues arise.

4. Employment Law and Social Media

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – The NLRB continued to issue surprising guidance and decisions on social media usage. In many cases, some or all provisions of employers’ policies governing the use of social media by employees were found to be unlawful. [BLOG] The NLRB affirmed that workers have the right to discuss work conditions freely without fear of retribution,
whether the discussion takes place in the office or on Facebook. But later in the year it actually found some uses of social media for employment (firing) decisions to be okay.

Employer Access to Social Media User Names and Passwords – By year end, 36 states had passed or initiated legislation prohibiting employers from requesting personal social media account information or passwords in connection with employment decisions.

National Conference of State Legislatures Report – Some states have similar legislation to protect students in public colleges and universities.

5. Online Gaming

First mover states
forged forward with online gambling.

·        Nevada – Legalized online poker and granted its first licenses for interactive gaming.

·        New Jersey – In February, passed legislation (signed into law by Governor Chris Christie) allowing on-line wagering. Subject to certain limitations, licensed operators are permitted to offer online versions of a wide variety of games currently permitted in Atlantic City casinos (e.g., roulette, craps, black jack, and slots).

·        Delaware – On October 31, launched what Delaware officials call a “full suite” of internet gambling.

Zynga – In September,
Zynga withdrew its bid for a gambling license in Nevada

Federal Gambling Legislation
– The prospects for a federal law for online gambling remain elusive.

6.
Mobile Health Applications

FDA Guidance
– The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued guidance that focused on applications that present a greater risk to patients if they do not work as intended or that cause smartphones or other mobile platforms to impact the functionality or performance of traditional medical devices.

FTC Guidance
– The FTC issued guidance in April focusing on truthful advertising and privacy.

7.
Gamblification/Sweepstakes

Florida prohibited
gaming promotions in a cause-related marketing campaign (where purchase of a good or service benefits a charitable cause).

Internet Sweepstakes Café Conviction in Florida – Lawyer Kelly Mathis was convicted on 103 of 104 counts related to illegal gambling based on his role in Internet Sweepstakes Cafés in Florida. He faces up to 30 years in prison. CA, OH, SC and other states moved quickly to shut down similar operations.

8.
Equity-based crowd funding legalized in the United States

SEC Rules
– In October, the SEC voted unanimously to propose rules under the JOBS Act to loosen the rules and permit companies to offer and sell securities through equity crowd funding.

Note:
Equity crowd funding is much like crowd funding, which has been popularized in the United States through sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The difference is that instead of individuals supporting campaigns through donations, numerous investors are purchasing small stakes in startups or small businesses.

Critics Emerge
– Critics of equity crowd funding worry that the industry will be rife with Ponzi schemes or that having too many investors will hurt startups’ prospects for future funding.

Pillsbury originally discussed this in a January 2012 client alert and March 2012 Blog Post.

9.
Endorsements

FTC Enforcements on Fake Endorsements – In February, the FTC permanently stopped a fake news website operator that allegedly deceived consumers about acai berry weight loss products. The settlements will yield more than $1.6 million and conclude a sweep against online affiliate marketers and networks. The sites falsely claimed endorsements from ABC, Fox News, CBS, CNN, USA Today and Consumer Reports.

Many companies’ understanding of and compliance with the FTC Endorsement Guidelines remains lacking, yet enforcements continue.

10.
Wearable Computing Lawsuit

Google Glass Liability? – In what may be a foreboding development, a California woman received a traffic ticket for wearing Google Glass while driving. Many states have broad distracted-driving laws or bans on certain monitors that may apply to Google Glass and similar wearable computing devices.

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As recently reported, FINCEN issued significant guidance on legal issues with virtual currency. Shortly thereafter, an enforcement action was initiated against Mt. Gox, one of the largest bitcoin exchanges for operating without the proper licenses.

The use of virtual currency is prevalent and an important part of many social media and games business models. But it is imperative to understand the legal ramifications of its use. For an overview of the FINCEN guidance our team has prepared an Article regarding these issues.

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The U.S. Department of the Treasury has targeted Liberty Reserve S.A. as a financial institution of primary money laundering concern under Section 311 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Section 311).   According to Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) press release, Liberty Reserve – a web-based money transfer system or “virtual currency” – is specifically designed and frequently used to facilitate money laundering in cyber space.

Additionally, FINCEN published a regulatory finding explaining the basis of the actions anda notice of proposed rulemaking that, if adopted as a final rule, would prohibit covered U.S. financial institutions from opening or maintaining correspondent or payable-through accounts for foreign banks that are being used to process transactions involving Liberty Reserve. 

The regulatory enforcements around virtual currency appear to be increasing. If you have not recently reviewed your regulatory compliance with your counsel, now is a good time to do so.

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FinCEN recently issued interpretive guidance to clarify that it views certain activities involving convertible virtual currencies as money transmission services under the Bank Secrecy Act and FinCEN regulations. If your business involves creating, obtaining, distributing, exchanging, accepting, or transmitting virtual currencies, you may be subject to FinCEN’s registration, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements.

To read the full Client Alert, please see Financial Crimes Enforcement Network Issues Guidance on Virtual Currency.

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A new Manhattan bar has become one of the few brick and mortar operations to accept Bitcoins as a method of payment.

What are Bitcoins? They are essentially a form of digital cash or virtual currency. They are unique in that there is no central issuing or regulatory authority (such as a corporation or government), rather they are issued through the use of downloadable software which in effect searches for Bitcoins over the Internet. A successful search, which takes varying and increasing amounts of computer processing power, results in the issuance of a block of Bitcoins. The more people searching, the more difficult it is, but also the more valuable the Bitcoins are worth. One of the key features of Bitcoins is anonymity. Just like with a cash payment, there are no records as to the individual engaging in the transaction, as the transactions can occur through anonymous Bitcoin addresses. Bitcoins, however, are regulated, at least on the administrator side in the US, by the Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN). For more on their virtual currency regulations see FINCEN Issues Virtual Currency Regulations.

The bar accepts Bitcoin payments through a virtual wallet app, which is similar to most app-based payment systems. The app converts bar tabs from US dollars into Bitcoins, which are then transferred to the bar’s bank. Notably, some of the press for the bar may be due to the owner’s close friendship with the chairman of Bitcoin.

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FINCEN has recently issued what is perhaps the most specific piece of regulatory Guidance on the financial regulatory issues with virtual currencies. This guidance clarifies the applicability of the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) to entities creating, obtaining, distributing, exchanging, accepting, or transmitting virtual currencies. These guidelines relate to a wide variety of virtual currencies.

There are a few aspects of this guidance that are surprising to some people. If you are dealing with virtual currency, you must be aware of what these guidelines mean for you.