One year ago today, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) published the “DAO Report” which concluded that certain tokens issued in an initial coin offering (“ICO”) were securities under the Supreme Court decision SEC v. W.J. Howey Co. The Report stated that whether an ICO is a security offering will depend on the facts and circumstances, including the economic realities of the transaction. Confusion, private lawsuits, SEC enforcement actions, and even criminal prosecutions ensued, but three courts are about to provide clarity.
On 12 July 2018, the Hong Kong Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) distributed a circular providing guidance to Hong Kong intermediaries which intend to onboard and verify individual clients digitally. This guidance was drafted in response to the increasingly common occurrence of electronic transactions where a more efficient onboarding process is necessary.
Intermediaries are required to take all reasonable steps to establish the identity of their clients, including adopting a satisfactory account opening approach for their clients. If clients are not physically present for identification purposes, there will be a higher chance of risks eventuating including impersonation.
Published on 19 July, the UK Law Commission’s 2017-2018 Annual Report includes a section dedicated to a research project into smart contracts. The Commission is a statutory independent body. Its aims include the conduct of research and consultations in order to make systematic recommendations for consideration by the UK Parliament. The Commission defines “smart contracts” as the technology which runs on blockchain and by which legal contracts may be executed automatically, at least in part. The body says there is a compelling case for a Law Commission scoping study to review the current English legal framework as it applies to smart contracts. The project’s purpose would be to ensure that English law is sufficiently certain and flexible to apply in a global, digital context and to highlight any topics which lack clarity or certainty. The body has started its initial research and its main work will begin in summer 2018.