International task force exploring criminal ties to virtual economies

The International Center for Missing and Exploited Children has joined forces with Thomson Reuters to examine what impact digital currencies are having on criminal activities such as child trafficking.

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International task force exploring criminal ties to virtual economies

The International Center for Missing and Exploited Children has joined forces with Thomson Reuters to examine what impact digital currencies are having on criminal activities such as child trafficking.

This task force is working with the Bitcoin Foundation to see whether decentralized currencies play a role.

Together, the organizations will tackle digital money laundering as a means to support human trafficking, child pornography and other crimes.

ICMEC has in the past drawn connections between commercial child pornography and the fact that most people buying it were using credit cards. It then worked with banks and card companies to come up with a way to solve that problem.

The use of credit cards in such activities almost totally disappeared. But the people at ICMEC are not naïve: Those enterprises did not simply go out of business; they just moved on to other ways to forms of payment.

ICMEC President Ernie Allen said the task force will examine the scope of digital currencies’ role in criminal activity, and this includes currencies beyond just Bitcoin.

A recent raid on Silk Road justifies the ICMEC’s hypothesis, but a spokesperson for the Bitcoin Foundation argues that unregulated currencies are not particularly attractive to criminals wanting to obscure their activities.

The fact that each Bitcoin transaction is recorded should be enough to deter a criminal wary of leaving a digital paper trail, he suggested.

The task force will explore multiple dimensions of criminal activity. This includes law enforcement, regulation and human rights. The idea is to spend time and energy actually defining the problem when so much of what is known now is simply anecdotal.

This past summer, Thomson Reuters issued a white paper the difficulty of policing money laundering in the digital economy. Thomson Reuters estimates that money laundering accounts for 2-5% of the world’s GDP, or between about $1.4 trillion and $3.5 trillion.

The paper’s findings suggest only one in 10 fraud experts had even had to deal with digital currencies in their investigations. Significant amounts of money are laundered through less-expected channels such as the virtual currencies of online games and gift cards. Nevertheless, three in five reported they believed digital currencies would change the way fraud is investigated.

Other participants in this task force include the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank; George Mason University; the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; the Brookings Institution; the Tor Project, whose routers enabled Silk Road activity; Trend Micro; USAID; and Vital Voices.

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