Give the FBI a piece of your mind!

In connection with the closure of Silk Road and the arrest of its owner, the FBI announced that it has seized more than 26,000 Bitcoins (worth around 3 to 3.5 million USD). That’s a pretty hefty sum. Since Bitcoin transfers are public, the internet crowd set about searching for the wallet where the FBI is holding the confiscated amount. They managed to find it, because on 2 October, the day that the FBI swooped, the exact amount in question was transferred to that wallet from several thousand other wallets. This is the wallet in question. Its private key is doubtless being guarded extremely closely.

Unsurprisingly the Internet community didn’t stop at that. When making Bitcoin transfers, there’s the possibility (like with bank transfers) to make a comment, which in this case, like the transfer itself, is completely public. Since the FBI’s wallet is now in the limelight and lots of people have clicked on it to admire the fortune made by selling drugs, a few people started transferring small amounts to the wallet (in most cases the smallest possible unit, 0.00000001 BTC, equivalent to 0.00012 cents). Of course they attach comments to the transfers, making it a very inexpensive way of garnering attention.

The majority of the comments curse the FBI and give it a piece of their mind. However, they also include some humorous requests for donations and recommendations for online drugs marketplaces similar to Silk Road. There is one comment, however, that makes one stop and think about the peculiarities of how Bitcoin works. The sender recommends that the Bitcoin miner program should be rewritten slightly so as to not accept transfers from the FBI’s wallet.

What would that mean exactly? The full Bitcoin log with all transactions is present on every single computer running the miner program. Anybody can download and run the miner program, so there are large numbers of such computers. If a new transaction occurs, then its details are quickly broadcast to the network and every single miner verifies its authenticity. If it is authentic then, to put it very simply, the network accepts the transaction as completed and it is added to the transaction list that the majority of miner computers have booked. If the majority of miner computers were to refuse to accept transfers from the FBI’s wallet as authentic, then the network would never recognize the transfer as having been made. Ultimately the Bitcoins would remain in the wallet forever and would become unusable and therefore totally worthless.

Hatred of the FBI is not great enough or widespread enough for such an idea to be realistic and, in that knowledge, nobody will attempt such a thing. However, it could conceivably emerge that a given wallet belongs to a person who is universally reviled to a sufficient degree (such as a mass murderer, war criminal or dictator) for the idea to work. In that case, the public could render the wealth accumulated by nefarious means worthless. I don’t know whether that’s a good or a bad thing, and of course it’s possible for the wallet owner to get their money out before such an attack if they become aware of such public hostility in time. However, it’s also clear that it isn’t as safe for the person involved as, say, a Swiss bank account.


Original date of Hungarian publication: 11 October 2013