US proposes barring big tech companies from offering financial services, digital currencies

The draft proposal sends a strong message to large tech firms increasingly eyeing the financial services space. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A proposal to prevent big technology companies from functioning as financial institutions or issuing digital currencies has been circulated for discussion by the Democratic majority that leads the United States House Committee on Financial Services, according to a copy of the draft legislation seen by Reuters.

In a sign of widening scrutiny after Facebook's proposed Libra digital coin aroused widespread objection, the Bill proposes a fine of US$1 million (S$1.36 million) a day for violation of such rules.

Such a sweeping proposal would likely spark opposition from Republican members of the House who are keen on innovation, and would likely struggle to gather enough votes to pass the lower chamber.

Even if it were to pass the full House, it would still have to pass the Senate, which would also likely be an uphill struggle.

Nevertheless, the draft proposal sends a strong message to large tech firms increasingly eyeing the financial services space.

The draft legislation, "Keep Big Tech Out Of Finance Act", describes a large technology firm as a company mainly offering an online platform service with at least US$25 billion in annual revenue.

"A large platform utility may not establish, maintain or operate a digital asset that is intended to be widely used as medium of exchange, unit of account, store of value or any other similar function, as defined by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System," it proposes.

Facebook, which would qualify to be such an entity, said last month it would launch its global cryptocurrency in 2020.

Facebook and 28 partners, including Mastercard, PayPal and Uber Technologies, would form the Libra Association to govern the new coin. No banks are now part of the group.

Last week, US President Donald Trump criticised Libra and other cryptocurrencies and demanded that companies seek a banking charter and make themselves subject to US and global regulations if they wanted to "become a bank".

His comments came after Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell told lawmakers that Facebook's plan to build a digital currency called Libra could not move forward unless it addressed concerns over privacy, money laundering, consumer protection and financial stability.

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