Canada may launch government-backed bitcoin competitor

Writing last year on the peer-to-peer digital currency Bitcoin, I noted that while "the disruptive power of Bitcoin on banks and central governments has surely been overstated, but these institutions might be better served to take its emergence as a warning rather than a reassurance: They may not be the only game in town forever."

It seems that at least one country is taking the Bitcoin phenomenon seriously: Canada. The Canadian mint is launching research and development on its own "virtual currency" with the tasty-sounding name MintChip. Jesse Brown of MacLeans explains

Like BitCoin, it’s as anonymous as cash, leaving no electronic record of who paid what to who.  Unlike BitCoin, it’s backed by a central authority, which is bad news for the anarcho-crypto Illuminati-fearing libertarian crowd, but good news for people who actually use it. Will it be hacked? Probably. But a currency guaranteed by a wealthy and stable mint can sustain a certain amount of fraud without collapsing.  The Royal Canadian Mint has launched an app challenge to kickstart MintChip. 

I suspect that a lot of potential users -- not just "the anarcho-crypto Illuminati-fearing libertarian crowd" -- are going to wonder just how anonymous a government-backed electronic payment method will be. I'd imagine there will be at least some safeguards to prevent the underground drug markets that have given Bitcoin a bad name. 

Whatever happens, it should be an interesting experiment to watch. This is been a month of currency innovation for Canada, which announced it was eliminating the penny last week. It still has a ways to go to catch up with increasingly-cashless Sweden though.

Update: I neglected to mention the glow-in-the-dark dinosaur coin. The hits just keep coming from those wild and crazy guys at the Canadian Mint. 

Passport

Guess who else got their hands on some Libyan weapons?

Christian Caryl wrote yesterday on the possibility that the collapse of Muammar al-Qaddafi's regime in Libya -- and the flood of suddenly available weaponry that resulted -- may be at the root of Mali's current crisis. Not surprisingly, as Reuters reports today, the Tuareg rebels may not be the only armed group in North Africa that has come into a post-Qaddafi weapons windfall

"We found that Libyan weapons are being sold in what is the world's biggest black market for illegal gun smugglers, and Somali pirates are among those buying from sellers in Sierra Leone, Liberia and other countries," said Judith van der Merwe, of the Algiers-based African Centre for the Study and Research on Terrorism.

"We believe our information is credible and know that some of the pirates have acquired ship mines, as well as Stinger and other shoulder-held missile launchers," Van der Merwe told Reuters on the sidelines of an Indian Ocean naval conference. [...] The information was gathered from interviews with gun smugglers, pirates and other sources, said Van der Merwe.

Van der Merwe also notes that while the total number of pirates attacks seem to be down this year, the individual ransoms paid are increasing. Ship mines and missile launchers would seem to be a substantial upgrade for the pirate arsenal.

MOHAMED DAHIR/AFP/Getty Images