The first Bitcoin ATM was installed in Vancouver during 2013. But now the Mayor of the Canadian city is proposing a ban on the machines, arguing that they open the door to money laundering.
It’s important to remember who exactly is using them; some of these people are often on society’s fringes, especially sex workers. Vancouver’s potential ban on such machines will affect that vulnerable group disproportionately, argues Ethan Lou, a former journalist who these days runs a mining company in Canada and whose first book, Once a Bitcoin Miner, will be published next year.
In an article for The Globe and Mail, he says: “Make no mistake, the issue of Bitcoin ATMs is one of social class. Sex workers use cryptocurrency to buy ads or run websites because credit card issuers often refuse to work with the platforms and hosting services that cater to their industry. Using cryptocurrency also grants a certain anonymity, which is of particular importance; many sex workers deliberately avoid using online exchange platforms, which have lower fees, but often require bank accounts, credit cards, a fixed address or other identification.”
What makes the ATMs attractive to sex workers is also attractive to money launderers, Lou concedes. “British Columbia has wide-ranging issues with dirty money and it is not a stretch to say the ATMs could be involved. But cleaning ill-gotten gains is almost as old as sex work. Are Bitcoin ATMs used more so than, or even as frequently as, restaurants, casinos, convenience stores or any other business?”
Ultimately, those who launder money might end up little affected, he argues. With the right will and means, it is not hard to buy Bitcoin anonymously for cheaper than through ATMs. “As the City of Vancouver goes about its research, it is incumbent upon staff to at least consult the sex workers who, through no fault of their own, are caught in someone else’s fight, potentially made to suffer from someone else’s sins,” Lou concludes.