Former federal prosecutor Kathryn Haun spoke about the non-criminal nature of Bitcoin and the use of Blockchain of criminal investigations during an interview with Quartz published today, April 12.
During the interview, Haun, who worked on well-known crypto cases like that of US federal agents’ involvement in fraud and extortion during the Silk Road investigation, argued that Bitcoin is not itself criminal, as well as explained the importance of her use of Blockchain records for catching criminals. Haun currently teaches a class on cryptocurrency and cybercrime at Stanford University and serves on the board at crypto wallet and exchange service Coinbase.
During her time in government, Haun led a task force that prosecuted cases involving criminal uses of cryptocurrency. During the interview with Quartz, she made the distinction that the investigations did not take place just because cryptocurrency was used:
“I quickly learned prosecuting the technology of bitcoin wasn’t possible, number one; nor was it desirable, number two [...] The task force I was leading was focused on some of the worst criminal use cases involving cryptocurrency. I want to stress it wasn’t because cryptocurrency was used; it was because crimes were committed. It wasn’t about the medium of transaction.”
During the 2013 Senate hearing about Bitcoin, Haun also stresses that others in the government also saw cryptocurrencies as not necessarily illegal entities:
“[...] the Senate held a hearing, the first hearing it held on Bitcoin. Three government witnesses testified there. All three emphasized the point that there is absolutely nothing illegal about bitcoin or the technology itself.”
Haun then turns to the role Blockchain in her work convicting the two federal agents, Carl Force and Shaun Bridges, for stealing Bitcoin while investigating the Silk Road. According to Haun, traditional financial institutions were unhelpful in supplying information for the investigation, they “dragged their heels, they took forever, and in some cases didn’t respond at all.” She continues, “ironically, it was a lot of the evidence we were given by the cryptocurrency platforms and community that helped us crack the case.”
Haun describes how government investigators – the Internal Revenue Service, FBI, Homeland Security Investigations – used wallet explorer blockchain.info to look for evidence:
“These were public tools, which was an important thing at the time, because these agents were still employed by the federal government. Something that’s not well known is that one of those agents [who was convicted] was the self-appointed digital currency person for the Secret Service. We were really nervous that if we were using any legal process, even a secret government legal process, it would be discovered by the target of our investigation. Having these public tools was very helpful.”
In November of last year, the technical architecture lead for the UK’s Ministry of Justice spoke about the possibility for Blockchain to record digital evidence for criminal investigations, specifically in the case of footage from body-cameras worn by police officers.