The Benton County sheriff’s office in Arkansas aims to pilot a new program to help tackle cyber criminals. Part of its Cyber Crimes Division, the primary target of the operation will be purveyors of child pornography, and those using the dark web to prey on vulnerable young people.
As part of the program, law enforcement hope to mine Bitcoin. The cryptocurrency is often favoured by criminals online thanks to its pseudonymity. However, because it’s possible to track every transaction occurring on the Bitcoin network, it is difficult for those investigating cyber crime to remain undetected by the targets of their scrutiny.
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The Benton County sheriff’s office have taken the bold step to set up a cryptocurrency mining operation to create”clean” Bitcoins that can be used to gather evidence on dark web pedophile rings. Detective David Undiano commented that mining Bitcoin was also cheaper than buying the currency through exchange websites. He went on to state:
People are selling child pornography on the dark web and on the internet. They are accepting bitcoins, not payments. We can’t use the sheriff’s office credit card, and we cant exchange child pornography. We need some type currency to get this and then identify who we are getting it from. That way, we can go arrest that person.
County Sheriff Shawn Holloway first announced the plan at a conference on October 17. According to him, Bitcoin would become a “tool in our belt to be able to… keep our great community safe”. He also went on to say that it was vital for law enforcement to keep up to date with criminal developments such as using Bitcoin to pay for illegal goods.
Nathan Smith, a Benton County prosecuting attorney who law enforcement have been consulting with, was pleased with the development and efforts to tackle those who believe they can act with impunity thanks to anonymous browsers such as TOR:
The sheriff’s office deserves credit for creating a pilot program with the goal of depriving criminals of that safe haven. Ultimately, attacking crime online has a direct impact on the safety of our communities, and I am grateful that our law enforcement officers are being proactive in that effort.
Whether or not the pilot will be successful in battling cyber crime remains to be seen. Setting up sufficient hashing power to mine Bitcoin isn’t cheap in today’s industry. Some argue that this will result in a greater tax burden on the citizens of Benton County for an unproven scheme. Another fact worth highlighting is that if law enforcement feel that criminals are savvy enough to track the buyers of cryptocurrency, they’ll probably be suspicious of payments starting to flood in from new wallets loaded with nothing but freshly minted Bitcoin.