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Special Report: Didn't we have a lovely day, the day we went to the Italian Parliament

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Life is never boring at Consult Hyperion. If you’re not marvelling at a totally cool working prototype of HCE running over BLE on an unmodified iPhone, you’re in the Italian Parliament at their hearing on Bitcoin.

I went off to Italy to take part in a hearing about Bitcoin in the Italian Parliament. Naturally, the hard work began the night before with a delicious meal in the centre of Rome. It’s important to soak up the atmosphere before speaking in a parliament building I always feel. Anyway, here I am at dinner giving Jordan Kelley a few tips on running a crypto currency business.

Dave Birch and Jordan Kelly

Jordan is the CEO of Robocoin, who are launching a network of Bitcoin ATMs. We found a lot to share in our world views, even though we don’t agree about everything. Which was good, because it was important to put a spectrum of views in front of the hearing. Next morning, we set off for the Italian Parliament building, Montecitorio, for the public hearing. The nice people at  Cashless Way made a photo album of the day for you, but here are a few of my photos.

Getting ready to visit

Our host, Geronimo Emili (below) from the “War on Cash”, who had invited Jordan and I as the overseas “experts” joining the list of Italian individuals and organisations speaking at the event [Italian]. These included MasterCard, Unicredit, the consumer association, acdemics, entrepreneurs and the tax police. A fascinating, fascinating range of views. I won’t regurgitate here because the discussions have been covered elsewhere (e.g., here) but I focused my contribution on the radical and innovative nature of the Bitcoin protocol while remaining sceptical about the potential for Bitcoin as a currency (although I did support the idea that new kinds of currency are around the corner).

Geronimo Emili

The hearing was held in the Aldo Moro Room. The Red Brigades, supposedly under the direction of activists from the Hyperion (!) School in Paris, kidnapped the former Christian Democrat Prime Minister Aldo Moro and killed five members of Moro’s entourage. They murdered Moro 54 days later.

Aldo Moro

In preparation for the days activities, I created a new Bitcoin Wallet and posted it to Twitter to appeal for donations to try out the new Bitcoin ATM later on.

Wallet

And guess what! A kind soul sent a donation! Under the cloak of anonymity and with an increase in the sum total of human knowledge as their only reward, a benefactor responded.

Mobile Mitzvah

After the presentations in the parliament, we all went over to the LUISS EnLabs accelerator where the Robocoin Bitcoin ATM was duly unveiled to appropriate media fanfare and members of the general public (sort of) were invited to give it a go.

Unveiled

So here’s how it works. You register with the network. You enter your mobile phone number. The system texts you a code. You enter the code. Then you hold your ID (in my case, a passport) up to the scanner and then you place your right hand it a palm scanner (four times). The you look in the camera and it takes your picture so the person at the other end of the line (it is a person) can see that you are the person in the ID document. You log in. You generate a Bitcoin Wallet.

Registration

And then you wait. You get a text message when the  chap at the other end has OK’d everything.

Er, that's it

When you get confirmation that your account has been created, you put money into the ATM, it credits the cash to the wallet. Alternatively, you can turn Bitcoins in the wallet into cash. So, you log in to your account and then you feed money into the slot. Once this is done, the ATM prints out a ticket for you with the wallet private key on it. You can hide this under your bed, have it tattooed on your inner thigh or, as I did, “sweep” it into another wallet.

Cash In

I gave it a go. My €50 was determined to be real, presumably, and the system generated a receipt for the transaction. And then the blockchain goes off and does its stuff and some indeterminate time later, the purchased Bitcoins show up in your wallet.

Bingo!

Did it work? Yes it did. Was it easy and convenient? No it wasn’t. Will the general public use it? I wouldn’t have thought so, although it may well find a niche. Personally, I can’t really imagine any circumstances under which I’d use it, and there are two main reasons for this.

The first is that I already have a bank account that works fine and I’d rather people who want to give me money just send it to my bank account so I don’t have to go near an ATM anyway.

The second is the pain of KYC. I gave my passport details, mobile phone number and palm print to a box of unknown provenance (well, not strictly true, since I’d met Jordan and he’s nice guy) and I was distinctly uncomfortable about it. And all the time I was doing it I was wondering why.  It’s just not worth the hassle or the risk.

So, in summary, I stand by my comments to the hearing. Bitcoin is a genuine technological breakthrough and it will cause a revolution. But probably not in payments.

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