Bitcoin Creating Interest and Controversy
Many people who want to buy goods, pay for services, or send money anywhere in the world are using Bitcoin. They do not have to use banks, credit cards or other financial services when they use the electronic currency.
Unlike national currency, Bitcoin is not issued by governments. Bitcoin is electronically protected or encrypted. It is bought, sold and transferred like other currencies through trading companies. Transfers happen without governments being involved or regulating the currency.
Jerry Brito is a technology policy analyst at George Mason University. He says Bitcoin is the world's first, true digital currency, that is not controlled by anyone.
"Bitcoin basically solved a computer science problem that, for the first time, allows just two people to transact online, so it's decentralized. There's no Bitcoin company, there's no government, it's kind of like email."
However, the very things that people like about Bitcoin, are also what criminals like about it. They want to move money from place to place secretly, without governments knowing about it. Law enforcement agencies in the United States recently closed an online market that used Bitcoin.
Marco Santori is the chairman of the Bitcoin Foundation's Regulatory Affairs Committee. He notes that all Bitcoin transactions can be seen by all other computers, and he says they believe that no one regulates the currency is not true.
"Bitcoin is in fact heavily regulated. It is very heavily regulated. Those who exchange Bitcoins for other digital currencies or exchange Bitcoins for dollars are money transmitters under the Bank Secrecy Act," said Santori.
The amount of Bitcoins in the system must always be counted and tracked. Users' computers that watch and approve Bitcoin sales and purchases are given new Bitcoins. Mr Brito says this is how more money is added to the system.
"Every 10 minutes, there are about 25.5 Bitcoins introduced into the economy, and it is given to one of the miners, kind of at random as it were, who are contributing the computer capacity," said Brito.
The United States, Germany, and many other governments accept the use of Bitcoins, but some officials have called for stronger regulations on the electronic currency. China recently banned its banks, but not businesses, from trading in Bitcoin.
Since its beginning in 2009, the value of a Bitcoin has increased from just a few pennies to hundreds of American dollars.