On February 20, the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC” or “Commission”) issued a cease-and-desist order against Gladius Network LLC (“Gladius”) concerning its 2017 initial coin offering (“ICO”).  The SEC found that the Gladius ICO violated the Securities Act of 1933’s (“Securities Act”) prohibition against the public offer or sale of any securities not made pursuant to either an effective registration statement on file with the SEC or under an exemption from registration.[1]  While this is far from the first time that the SEC has found that a particular ICO token meets the definition of a “security” under the Securities Act,[2] this is notably the first action involving an ICO token issuer that self-reported its potential violation.  Due to this, and Gladius’s cooperation throughout the investigation, the SEC stopped short of imposing any civil monetary penalties among its ordered remedial measures.
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On November 8, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) imposed a cease-and-desist order against Zachary Coburn for causing his former company, EtherDelta, to operate as an unregistered securities exchange in violation of Section 5 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (“Exchange Act”).  Notably, EtherDelta, a trading platform specializing in digital assets known as Ether and ERC20 tokens,[1] was not operated like a traditional exchange with centralized operations, as there was no ongoing, active management of the platform’s order taking and execution functions. Instead, EtherDelta was “decentralized,” in that it connected buyers and sellers through a pre-established smart contract protocol upon which all operational decisions were carried out.

In the SEC’s view, EtherDelta met Exchange Act Rule 3b-16(a)’s definition of an exchange notwithstanding the lack of ongoing centralized management of order taking and execution.  Robert Cohen, the Chief of the SEC’s Cyber Unit within the Division of Enforcement stated after the order’s release, “The focus is not on the label you put on something . . . The focus is on the function . . . whether it’s decentralized or not, whether it’s on a smart contract or not, what matters is it’s an exchange.” This functional approach echoes prior SEC guidance and enforcement actions in the digital asset securities markets in emphasizing that the Commission will look to the substance and not the form of a market participants’ operations in evaluating their effective compliance with U.S. securities laws.
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On September 11, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) each separately initiated their first enforcement action for violations of broker-dealer regulatory requirements under U.S. securities laws in digital asset markets. These actions echo all prior agency actions and alerts indicating that where a “security” is involved, both agencies will expect digital asset market participants to fully comply with U.S. securities laws. Additionally, they serve as a serious reminder to all persons acting as “brokers”[1] or “dealers”[2] (together, “broker-dealers”) that just because digital asset securities are unconventional securities with unconventional compliance challenges does not mean that either the SEC or FINRA will lower its compliance expectations.
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Artificial intelligence and machine learning (for simplicity, we refer to these concepts together as “AI”)[1] have been hot topics in the financial services industry in recent years as the industry wrestles with how to harness technological innovations.  In its report on Nonbank Financials, Fintech, and Innovation released on July 31st, the Treasury Department (“Treasury”) generally embraced AI and recommended facilitating the further development and incorporation of such technologies into the financial services industry to realize the potential the technologies can provide for financial services and the broader economy.

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On July 31st, the Treasury Department (“Treasury”) released its fourth and final report in response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13772.  The report, entitled “A Financial System That Creates Economic Opportunities: Nonbank Financials, Fintech, and Innovation” (the “Report”), only briefly addresses distributed ledger technologies, blockchain and digital assets, but takes broad aim at perceived regulatory challenges to innovation.  The Report argues for a significant rethinking of state and federal regulation across data access, licensing, payments and many other issues.
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Part 3: Developments in the United States and the Rising Tide of Enforcement

In 2017, the use of initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) as an alternative means to raise capital took off worldwide. By the end of the year, ICO sponsors raised over $5.6 billion globally through token offerings.[1] At the same time, U.S. regulators’ focus on ICOs has rapidly expanded as well. Since releasing the DAO Investigative Report in July 2017 (the “DAO Report”), the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) has steadily increased its focus on ICO activity. As exemplified by numerous investor advisories, the creation of the Cyber Unit within the Enforcement Division with the purpose to halt and deter cyber-related misconduct in the securities markets, enforcement actions against ICOs, and the Office of Compliance Inspection and Examinations’ (“OCIE”) announcement that monitoring ICO sales will be one of its top 2018 priorities, it is clear that the SEC views ICOs as squarely within the scope of its mandate for regulation and enforcement. Unsurprisingly, state enforcement actions and private class action litigation targeting ICOs are also on the rise.
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On February 6, 2018,  Chairman Clayton of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Chairman Giancarlo of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) testified before the Senate Banking Committee (the Committee) on their agencies’ oversight role for virtual currencies.  Consistent with his prior statements, Clayton took a strong stance on SEC regulation of Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs).  But, when it came to cryptocurrencies themselves, he and Giancarlo struck a somewhat more circumspect tone.  In particular, despite acknowledging that their existing jurisdiction does not extend to spot transactions in cryptocurrencies, the Chairmen did not yet seek additional regulatory authority.

However, Chairman Clayton particularly expressed concerns about whether virtual currency exchanges provided adequate protections for investors and whether state regulation as payment services was sufficient.  While the Chairmen did not request new authority, it is clear that there would be support within the Committee for legislation in this area, and Clayton and Giancarlo committed to work with each other and other authorities (including bank regulators and law enforcement authorities) to develop an appropriate approach.  When the Chairmen of the SEC and CFTC express that they are “open” to exploring whether increased federal regulation is needed, there is a clear message.
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On Friday, January 12th, during an appearance at The Economic Club in Washington, D.C.  United States Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced that the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC) was forming a virtual currency working group.  The announcement follows FSOC’s discussion of virtual currency issues, including “price volatility, investor protection and the potential for illicit use”, and commitment to continue reviewing these risks at its meeting in December.[1]

In his remarks to The Economic Club, Secretary Mnuchin emphasized that Treasury was concerned about the potential for money laundering and the risk to consumers investing in virtual currencies. 
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On January 4, 2018, the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) released an investor reminder regarding the risks associated with cryptocurrencies, initial coin offerings (ICOs), and cryptocurrency-related investment products.  In the warning, the NASAA described factors that investors should consider before making investments in cryptocurrencies and cryptocurrency-related investment products, as well as common red flags of investment fraud.
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On Friday, December 15, 2017, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) issued a proposed interpretation of the term “actual delivery” for purposes of determining whether certain virtual currency transaction could be deemed “retail commodity transactions” subject to the CFTC’s jurisdiction under the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA).[1]
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