Policy & Law
When the FBI seize took control of the digital black market Silk Road, it also seized control of a bunch of money: about 26,000 bitcoins, a virtual currency that approximates cash on the internet. Bitcoins are worth about $122 each, which means the government is sitting on a pretty pile of cash. So why are enraged users sending the federal agency Bitcoin donations?
It's possible to attach text to Bitcoin transactions using the site Blockchain.info, where messages are streamed for the public to view. It's not hard to locate a single wallet with so many coins, and someone has already renamed the FBI's wallet "Silkroad Seized Coins." Users are now sending microdonations ranging from .000001 BTC to .0001 BTC, which are worth fractions of a penny, but really serve as the vehicle for messages.
"Prohibition doesn't work. Stop ruining peoples' lives."
In the wake of the Silk Road closure and the arrest of Ross Ulbricht, the man accused of running the site, people have a lot to say. The messages contain gems such as, "Prohibition doesn't work. Stop ruining peoples' lives," and "Members of the FBI, are you more interested in control or in justice?" One user sent along a link to this sassy picture of Xhibit. Others were more specific: "Hey computer geek, who control this address. Ross Ulbricht is not the bad guy, you are a bad guy."
Attaching a message to a Bitcoin transaction as a political statement is actually tradition. Using a different method, the creator of Bitcoin embedded a cryptic message to the very first bitcoins: "The Times 03/Jan/2009 Chancellor on brink of second bailout for banks." That message is now stored forever in the blockchain, the public history of all transactions done in Bitcoin. The text, a news headline, has been interpreted as a political statement as well as a timestamp.
The question of what the government is going to do with its newfound Bitcoin wealth is an interesting one. The FBI filed a civil forfeiture complaint for the Bitcoins and other assets, just as it would in any crime involving property of value. But the agency isn't quite sure what to do with the Bitcoin once the trial is done. "This is kind of new to us," an FBI spokesperson told Forbes. "We will probably just liquidate them." That statement is likely to make some former Silk Road customers want to cry; some had as much as $30,000 sitting on the site at the time it was seized. At least now they have a way to express their aggression.
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