Bitcoin has become exceedingly controversial over the past several years. Initially mentioned in a paper in 2008 and launched in early 2009, the digital currency has already experienced a number of ups and downs in its fortunes.

A few people have been able to generate millions of dollars in Bitcoin wealth. Law enforcement agencies, in shadowing online black markets, report it’s been used to pay for illegal drugs and other underground transactions. But it’s also increasingly being used for legitimate business transactions, although still at relatively small volumes. Bitcoin’s ambiguous reputation means that few people, except those versed in Bitcoin transactions, are confident that the digital currency is reliable or even entirely legal to pay debts or as an investment. Law enforcement agencies look at the currency with a jaundiced eye. Government regulators and tax authorities don’t know what to make of it yet. Through it all, however, Bitcoin use and speculation have continued to grow, and it stands as a lightning rod of controversy.

This eWEEK slide show examines why Bitcoin is getting so much attention from investors, regulators, lawmakers and law enforcement.

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