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地下毒品网络覆灭有望助比特币转正

Nin-Hai Tseng 2013年10月09日

比特币具有吸引主流用户的潜力,但却一直游离在主流之外。分析人士认为,最近地下毒品网络丝绸之路网的覆灭其实有助于比特币摆脱黑暗的一面,为进入主流金融体系做好准备。丝绸之路网完全依靠比特币交易,交易金额高达数十亿美元。

    联邦投资者上周关闭了丝绸之路网(Silk Road),这家地下网站承载了一个价值数十亿美元的毒品买卖黑市。2011年,纽约州民主党参议员查尔斯•舒默和西弗吉尼亚州民主党参议员乔•曼钦点名批评丝绸之路网,声称它充分证明了比特币(Bitcoin)所有的阴暗面,该网站由此受到关注。过去一年,这种曾经籍籍无名的虚拟货币获得了新闻媒体和监管机构等方面的广泛关注。在丝绸之路网,所有交易均是以比特币完成;两位参议员担心,被比特币的匿名性吸引的恐怖分子和犯罪分子会使用这种货币进行非法交易。

    如果你相信联邦调查人员的发现,你会发现他们说的没错。近期的打击行动彰显出与比特币相关的几件事情:其一,监督网络犯罪或许非常困难,但实际上是可能的。任何一件发生在互联网上的事情,势必会浮现在现实世界之中。其次,于比特币的投资者和企业家而言,丝绸之路的关闭不啻为一个警钟——他们应该认真对待联邦金融法规。但在这样做的同时,比特币有可能失去它最大的卖点之一——匿名性。

    追查丝绸之路并非易事——它是被一个名为TOR,允许用户匿名在线交流的系统拦截的。比特币为这家网站添加了一层额外的匿名性,但联邦当局迅速跟进。在加拿大当局随机截获了一批指向旧金山一处地址的假身份证之后,联邦调查局(FBI)逮捕了丝绸之路的头号嫌犯,29岁的罗斯•威廉•乌布利希。

    这则消息引发了一波抛售狂潮,导致比特币的价值大幅下跌。虽然这起事件可能会让比特币的信誉受损,但在一些企业家看来,对于这种货币来说,丝绸之路网的覆灭其实是好事一桩。他们声称,比特币要想登堂入室,进入主流金融体系,它首先需要清洗自己阴暗的一面。

    比特币具备吸引主流用户的潜力。支持者声称,随着在线交易日益增加,比特币或将推动支付业务发生一场革命。这种货币也可以降低交易费用,缓解汇款传输系统的压力。另一个颇具吸引力的地方在于,选择比特币作为支付媒介可以让用户保持匿名性。将来有一天,假设一家刚刚完成一笔大型并购交易的公司打算让这个消息在几天或几周内处于保密状态,公司高管们或许认为选择比特币进行交易是个好主意。

    问题是,比特币的匿名性也对毒贩产生了吸引力。据联邦调查局透露,在不到三年的时间里,丝绸之路就促成了大约相当于12亿美元的销售额,斩获了高达8,000万美元的佣金。目前尚未偿付的比特币的总值超过15亿美元,丝绸之路对于比特币的重要程度由此可见一斑。

    与美元不同,比特币和其他虚拟货币的背后不存在某家中央银行;这个特征已吸引了许多用户。尽管如此,比特币依然在不断演变。这种货币问世于2009年,由于支付行业面临一些正常现金和商品交易也必须遵循的新法规,新玩家正在不断涌入这个市场。比特币正在靠近一个十字路口,大毒枭和大金融家之间的对立情绪必将进一步升级。

    Federal investors last week shut down Silk Road, an underground website that hosted a massive billion-dollar black market drug ring. The site gained attention in 2011 when Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) singled it out as an example of all that's shady about Bitcoin, the once-obscure virtual currency that's gained plenty of attention from news media and regulators over the past year. All deals on Silk Road were made in Bitcoin; the senators worried it would be used by terrorists and criminals attracted to the anonymity of the currency.

    They were right, if you believe what federal investigators found. The recent crackdown highlights a few things about Bitcoin: For one, it may be difficult to police Internet crimes, but it's indeed possible. Whatever happens online is bound to emerge in the real world. Secondly, Silk Road's shutdown should be a wake-up call for Bitcoin investors and entrepreneurs to take federal financial regulations seriously. But in doing so, Bitcoin could risk losing one of its biggest selling points: its anonymity.

    Silk Road wasn't easy to trace -- it was blocked by a system called TOR, which allowed users to communicate anonymously online. Bitcoin added an additional layer of anonymity to the website, but authorities caught on. The FBI arrested 29-year-old Ross William Ulbricht, Silk Road's alleged mastermind, after Canadian authorities randomly intercepted a package of fake I.D.s that were en route to his San Francisco address.

    The news has sparked a big sell-off, causing the value of Bitcoin to fall sharply. While that may set back the currency's credibility, some entrepreneurs actually take it as one of the best things to happen to the currency, arguing that before Bitcoin can enter the mainstream financial system, it will need to clean up its shady side.

    Bitcoin has the potential to attract mainstream users. Supporters say it could potentially revolutionize the payments business as more transactions take place online. Bitcoin could also lower transaction costs or ease the transmission of remittances. The fact that users can pay in Bitcoin and remain anonymous is also attractive. Say a company wants to keep a large acquisition private for a few days or weeks -- the idea is that one day executives could turn to bitcoins.

    The problem is the anonymity of Bitcoin is also what attracts thugs in the drug world. In less than three years, Silk Road generated the equivalent of roughly $1.2 billion in sales and $80 million in commissions, according to the FBI The total value of all outstanding bitcoins is currently more than $1.5 billion, so this gives a sense of how important Silk was to the Bitcoin economy.

    Unlike the U.S. Dollar, Bitcoin and other virtual currencies aren't backed by a central bank; that has attracted many users. Nonetheless, Bitcoin is evolving. It was created in 2009, and new players are continuously entering the market as the industry faces new regulations that regular cash and commodities must also follow. The currency is approaching a crossroads of sorts, further dividing drug lords and high financiers.

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