On Wednesday, Roger Ver announced the launch of a new project, BitcoinBountyHunter.com, a site that rewards people with anonymous bitcoin bounties if they can prove they have submitted evidence that leads to the conviction of wanted criminals.

The wanted criminals the site lists so far are:

  • Whoever hacked into Ver’s email account
  • Whoever hacked into Satoshi Nakamoto’s email account (possibly the same person as above)
  • Whoever is responsible for all that missing Mt. Gox money
  • Whoever is responsible for all that missing Bitcoinica money

The first two are lumped into the same bounty, as Ver believes the Satoshi hacker is the same person who hacked his own email account, and that bounty sits at more than 37 BTC. The other two bounties are worth between 2 and 3 BTC.

Wired has a nice description of how a user would have to claim his or her bounty:

The site lets anyone post an anonymous bounty anytime there’s a crime “with a victim,” Ver says. To collect your bounty, you must assemble a dossier of evidence, get it digitally notarized using a nifty bitcoin blockchain hack called Proof of Existence, and forward it to law enforcement. Then you wait—possibly a very long time. Ver’s website pays bounties only upon conviction. It’s like a digital Crimestoppers that way.

In a video that was released to coincide with the site’s launch, Ver said this project would usher in a “new era for law enforcement and the protection of individual rights.”

You can see that video here:

“Perhaps most interestingly of all, now law enforcement officers themselves can directly and anonymously collect bounties for actually doing their jobs,” Ver noted.

Ver also said he hopes to build a “decentralized, trustless system” in the coming months because right now he is the gatekeeper for the bounty system.

I had an uneasy feeling watching the video and reading through all the materials about Bitcoin Bounty Hunter, but it wasn’t until I spoke with one of Cointelegraph’s experts that I understood what was making me uneasy.

Ver Sounds As If He Is Seeking Vengeance

Ver has already found himself on the business end of the American judicial system for illegally selling a pest control product, and he later argued in a piece for the Daily Anarchist that the length of his jail sentence was influenced by his politics and things he had said publicly.

But as he has been the victim of hacking and theft on several occasions since then, it now sounds as if he is happy to wield that same state force when it serves his interests.

That might not be the reality of Ver’s motives, but that’s how it appears to me.

- Roger Ver

The Slippery Slope Toward Vigilantism

More worrying than Ver’s own philosophy, however, is the thought of crowdsourced vigilantism. The Wired story specifically pointed out Assassination Market, a site that could be found on the dark web in which users could raise funds to put a hit out on someone.

That site scared many people — rightfully so — when it entered mainstream levels of awareness, but the vast majority of people don’t know how to access the dark web, and that threat never seemed to feel too imminent.

Ver told CoinDesk on Wednesday that he tried to be explicit in the site’s wording that vigilantism was neither the point nor the goal:

“I tried to make it clear that the bounties are only awarded in the case of traditional law enforcement making an arrest that leads to a conviction. My intent is not to inspire people to engage in their own vigilante justice.”

That’s like Prometheus telling humans not to burn each other.

I realize Ver is not the first person to suggest bitcoin bounties for criminals or anyone else wanted for something, but he carries enough influence and notoriety that a lot of people will be introduced to the concept this week.

This opens up a whole new universe of applications for bitcoin bounties. We could easily issue a “Wanted: Dead or Alive” bitcoin bounty for Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for example, and that’s probably something a lot of people would get behind.

But it would still be mob justice.

As organizations such as BitNation demonstrate, we are rapidly approaching a point where blockchain technology could facilitate decentralized justice. Let’s start talking now about what exactly that might involve.

Paying people to hand evidence over to the cops? Issuing an altcoin that creates a new block every time an ISIS leader is picked off?

I know it’s cliche to talk about playing with fire, but this is the stuff the gods warned Prometheus about. What’s going to happen when people have a financial incentive to reach out to law enforcement or, more frighteningly, take their own versions of the law into their own hands?

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