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Blockchain makes it both easier and harder for law enforcement to track the activity of cyber-criminals
Bitcoin is just the first app we are using when dealing with the Blockchain. Soon we will see more ways people can squeeze the most out of Blockchain.
Back in the 90s when the Internet was first becoming profit-oriented, no one would possibly have imagined that the Internet would breed Facebook, Google, Uber, online streaming, etc. This is where we are with the Blockchain now. There exists a whole world of opportunities out there.
In order to realize that potential, it’s critical that law enforcement has the ability to chase down the individuals who use the Blockchain for unrighteous things. We need to craft a Blockchain that is secure for legal commerce and is advantageous to everybody except for criminals.
Law enforcement agencies have a lengthy history of changing their procedures to pursue criminals who make use of the latest technology to commit crimes. The law has always found a way to evolve to address new tech challenges. There is no reason to expect that law enforcement won’t be able to get a handle on Blockchain.
With Blockchain still being in the embryonic stage, we have the opportunity to make it much easier for law enforcement to understand. At the same time, we need to implement improvements to make the Blockchain safer for commerce while making it harder for criminals to use.
It’s tough to identify a user from a Bitcoin address. When investigating cybercrime, prosecutors are looking for ways to isolate and connect a certain IP or MAC address, or an email address, to a particular person. It’s harder to do that if someone is using multiple IP addresses, TOR, proxies, etc.
One more problem is that most email providers can’t, nor is there any need to, validate the data their users give them. The same is often true of cell phone companies, too.
One way to succeed in dealing with these challenges is to analyze data from multiple sources to identify the single bad apple in the bunch.
Even with all of these problems the Blockchain, in fact, gives the law enforcement a few advantages.
One of the good features of Bitcoin, from law enforcement’s perspective, is that you are able to track all the transactions of a specific Bitcoin address, with records dating back to their first transaction. This enables law enforcement to trace the cash in a way that they could never do before.
Bitcoin is much less anonymous than people think. A Bitcoin address is essentially an account number. If you can connect a person to the address, then you may know all of the transactions that person made.
One major problem law enforcement agencies have with phone and Internet companies is that each one has its own regulations about retaining customer data. It can take years to go through numerous providers, often passing through different countries, just to locate the provider that has the information you seek to trace a high-level cyber-criminal. Even then there’s a chance that the trail has gone cold. The Blockchain stores everything forever. That data isn’t going anywhere and you can get it easily.
Third party doctrine is a concept that says people shouldn’t expect that data they share with a third party like an ISP to be kept confidential. Third party doctrine makes it possible for law enforcement to get records from ISPs, banks, and cellphone carriers with a subpoena instead of a search warrant.
It’s even easier to get access to transaction history when dealing with Blockchain; no subpoena is required. The Blockchain is designed to be open and accessible by all.
Whenever evidence shows up in another country, US law enforcement must follow the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) procedure to get assistance from foreign agencies. Right now, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) is in litigation with Microsoft over whether the DOJ has the jurisdiction to get data kept at a Microsoft data center in Ireland with a US search warrant. Microsoft is arguing that the DOJ may not use a warrant to get data kept overseas. That is not a problem with Blockchain as you can access it all over the world with no need for MLAT.
The Silk Road case has demonstrated how the law enforcement organizations are already quite capable of tracing transactions using the Blockchain. Carl Force was the DEA agent accused of stealing Bitcoins during the Silk Road investigation. Among the exhibits presented in the case was a chart showing how law enforcement tracked the funds through the Blockchain despite the fact that Carl Force tried to split the transactions across numerous addresses.
Bitcoin can’t continue to be the criminal currency. It’s crucial that the Blockchain becomes a place criminals don’t feel secured.
That is why people interested in the Blockchain should help law enforcement learn the technology. A good way to accomplish this would be by making use of a public-private info sharing process to exchange details about cybersecurity threats.
These dialogues could help create a mechanism for the Bitcoin community to use their knowledge to overcome challenges law enforcement may face while investigating cybercrime.
It’s a clear-cut fact that there will always be unlicensed money remitters. It’s impossible to fully drive criminals away from the Blockchain or from the Internet in general. What we can do is create solutions to make it tougher for illegitimate businesses to prosper. Law enforcement should focus on the areas of Blockchain where criminals keep popping up. People need to work out innovative tactics law enforcement can implement.
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