The Legal Status of Bitcoin in Italy

While it’s easy to think of Bitcoin as a “currency” things become complicated when approaching the issue from a legal (though, Italian) perspective.  Under Italian law, Bitcoin neither is a “currency”, nor the equivalent of check or a credit card. Is “just” a good that people freely chose to put some value into, like an old camera or a classic car whose intrinsic value is close to nil, while the trading value skyrockets.

To better explain my point, let’s start with some economics.

Currency, in itself, has no intrinsic value. We do accept a piece of paper because we trust that somebody else, on the receiving side, will do the same, otherwise we don’t. This is what happened during the Cold War, when in the Eastern Block countries western currencies – officially not allowed – were traded on the black market, while in the West nobody would ever accepted Roubles. For the records, the root of this “psychological” way to create value dates back to the breaking of the Bretton-Woods Agreements.  So, as odd as it may seems, we may safely assume that money is just a creation of the mind. The “currency power” is a prerogative of a sovereign State. In other words, to be acknowledged as “currency” a currency must come from the Power-that-be. Thus, whatever doesn’t fit this requirement can’t be called “currency” or “money” (this is true within the EU, but not in some parts of the USA where the “private currency” is currently allowed.) It comes from this definition that Bitcoin is not a “currency”.

Is, then, Bitcoin something like a check or a promissory note? No, because under Italian law these things are regulated by specific laws.

Furthermore, is Bitcoin similar to a credit-card? Again, no, because there is no third-party who guarantee for use of the plastic-money.

One possible solution, at least under the Italian legal system, is to treat a Bitcoin as an immaterial good that can be traded as a quid-pro-quo either with other Bitcoins or different things. Simple as that.

Of course, I’m aware of the issues raised by the use of Bitcoins that – if you think for a while – aren’t different by those related to the use of cash or other valuable assets. Gold, diamonds and other precious things can be used for legitimate purposes or to fund illegal activities. But this doesn’t make a brick of gold illegal “ex se”. The same approach should work for Bitcoins (whathever its legal status.) It is the misuse that should be punished and not the Bitcoin in itself. Unfortunately, as always happens when technology is involved, the “Fear Spreading Professionals” are playing loud their “warning” instead of trying to understand how to gain advantage from a brilliant mathematical application.



The Datagate and the Risk of Outlawing Encryption

A side-effect generated by the Datagate scandal is the privacy hysteria exploitation to sell encryption-based services. Taking apart some obvious exceptions (business transactions, health information, judiciary data) these services are useless, ineffective and dangerous for the citizen an such and for the society. Continue reading

On Apple’s Adobe Flash Ban(g)

So, according to MacRumors, Apple’s explanation for the ban over Adobe’s Flash-to-Iphone compiler is deadly simple: Apple doesn’t want to loose its grip on the users. They invested monies in creating product, capturing a market and now want to raise fences to prevent other eating on theyr own dish (or, better, hunting in the same hunt-resort.

Adobe’s supporters – on their side –  shout fire accusing Apple of being unfair, etc. etc. etc. …

Well, I might agree with those criticism against Apple, were the accusation coming from the open source community (where Mac OsX is supposed to come from?) but honestly I can’t accept that an hyper-proprietary company such Adobe (member of Business Software Alliance, among other things) might complain against a business strategy that is entirely into the “mood” of this industry sector. This is the market, catch-it or leave-it.

This is not to say that I do like or approve Apple behaviour.

Preventing user from having multiple choices, liberty in other words, is by definition an unfair move. I think Apple should learn from Google, whose “power” stays firmly in users’ hands.

One may think that this is wrong too. Maybe, but between a leaving in a golden cage (as soon as you can afford it) or be free in the wild I would go for the latter.

More on the Snow Leopard Heat Issue…

Kidding apart, the Snow Leopard oddities (laptop heat issue, printer and application incompatibility and so on) raise a still unanswered question: can a software house – and in particular an operating system manufacturer – be free to sell a not well enough tested and not fully usable application?

This is not the rant of a discontented user but a precise legal question. Is it conceivable to let a producer of critical assets – as software surely is – to deliberately mass market unreliable products? Time has come when software manufacturer can’t be anymore allowed to “go crappy” treating users as a bunch of sheep and just “selling a roadmap”.

I don’t know if somebody ever did an assessment of the additional expenses caused by this marketing strategy (or, at least, I don’t know if this assessment has been made available to the public.) The fact is that software manufacturers should bear the legal consequences of their choice. But as Mark Minasi and Alan Cooper pointed out, software houses succeeded in convincing users that things must go that (wrong) way.

Apple’s Snow Leopard’s mismatched name…

Well, it seems that this time Apple marketing guys have slipped on a wet surface. Snow Leopard, the latest MacOS X version, causes serious heat problems to laptops such as the Mac Book Air (mine is literally burning.) A quick look at users’ forums on the Internet shows that this is a widespread problem and that Apple is doing almost nothing to fix it. Sure, a patch will come, but when? In the meantime, it is very hard to use a Snow Leopard equipped laptop.

Apple is more and more posing as Microsoft, and I wonder how the Cupertino-based company could possbily still run its commercial by claiming that OSX works out of the box, with no big legal copies for each advertising statement. But above all, can we still trust Apple?

Somebody might think that this is an exaggerated criticism for a very common event in the computing market (i.e. a new software that is – at least partially – a  crap one) but that’s the point. I start asking myself whether Apples really are the computers for the rest of us.

Snow Leopard… they’d better call it Firefox, oh, sorry, its taken. Why not Firebird, then?

p.s. I switched back to 10.5.8

Italian Politicians to storm the Internet

There is a disturbing trend in Italy. Every now and then, for the most various reasons, a politician feels compelled to propose a bill  “regulating” the Internet. 

In a previous post I addressed the issues arisen by Cassinelli and D’Alia bills in re: Internet censorship. A few weeks after, more colleagues followed their lead. 

Former showpersons – now MPs of Berlusconi’s party – proposes free speech and anonimity regulation “to protect minors” (but fact shows that they’re mostly concerned of copyright.) 

Between January and March 2009 Luca Barbareschi (actor) and Gabriella Carlucci (anchor woman), proposed two draft laws whose declared intent was to enforce copyright protection by shutting down civil liberties. 

Mr. Barbareschi proposal creates a “single point of cultural control” by granting the Italian State backed royalty collecting agency, the role of exclusive gateway between artists and market. Furthermore, Mr. Barbareschi’s draft law contains so loose statements about ISPs liability that the Government is allowed to do basically whatever he wants. 

More dangerous, if possible, is Mrs. Carlucci draft law that wants to ban anonymity from the Net, refusing even to consider intermediate forms such as “protected anonymity” (where the ISP act as trusted third party). Mrs. Carlucci want to establish a committee under the Communication Authority with power of interpreting Internet-related law (in Italy, only magistrates and the Parliament is supposed to), receiving “confidential notice” of infringement, acting as Alternative Dispute Resolution provider, counseling magistrates about the enforcement of preemptive activities ruled under rule of evidence code, like searches and seizure, termporary jail restriction etc.)

Again, on March 19 2009, MP’s Beatrice Lorenzin, Manlio Contento e Enrico Costa (all belonging to Mr. Berlusconi’s party) proposed a bill to filter minor’s access to websites suggesting though weight-loss techniques. Of course this was done to “protect minors”.

On the other (political) side, on March, 27 2009 Vincenzo Vita and Luigi Vimercati (both belonging to the Democratic Party),  proposed a bill to respect network neutrality and use open source in public administration. Oddly enough, this proposal comes too late, since both Mr. Vita and Mt. Vimercati ran institutional offices under the centre-left central Government and local administrations. When both Mr. Vita and Mr. Vimercati had the actual chance to do something effective, they did nothing, while their colleagues promoted proprietary software (Mr. Mussi as Minister of university and Mr. Nicolais as  Minister of innovation) and severely injured human rights by forcing Italian ISPs to block access to controversial websites, without a court order (Mr. Gentiloni, now Democratic Party, Minister of communication.) RIP, the infamous attempt of creating a State-managed one-stop touristic information website is definitely passed away on Jan. 18, 2008. The (now former,since the government just fell down) minister of innovation, Luigi Nicolais, finally decided to shut down the project and the minster of cultural assets, Francesco Rutelli, asked Corte dei conti (a magistrate court acting as “public spending watchdog”) to look for the responsibility for the waste of public money (5.800.000,00 Euros right now, to be precise).

Mr. Rutelli asked Umberto Paolucci – former Microsoft top manager in Italy and Europe – and now head of the ENIT (Italian Governement Tourist Board) to handle the issue.

Will open source technologies be take in consideration for the new super-duper portal?