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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Protest by payment: Users ‘locate’ FBI Silk Road wallet, send mocking Bitcoin donations

Protest by payment: Users ‘locate’ FBI Silk Road wallet, send mocking Bitcoin donationsImage placed on silkroadvb5piz3r.onion by the FBI.

Internet users are sending tiny donations with critical messages to what they believe is the FBI’s Bitcoin wallet. The wallet, which is worth US$3.3 million, is thought to contain digital funds seized from users of the online black market Silk Road.
Following the arrest of Ross William Ulbricht (alias “Dread Pirate Roberts”) and the shutdown of underground online marketplace Silk Road, which Ulbricht is suspected to have run, Reddit usersdiscovered what they say is an FBI-linked public wallet containing more than 27,000 BTC (one Bitcoin is equal to $122 at the time of writing).

While it could not be verified who owns the wallet, which was created on October 2, a massive amount of transactions came after the statement in the indictment against Ulbricht, which says that federal agents are authorized to “seize any and all Bitcoins contained in wallet files residing on Silk Road servers.”

It was not long before Bitcoin users came up with a way to attract the web’s attention to the alleged FBI haul, using the site Blockchain.info to send tiny donations with publicly streamed messages to the account. The wallet has since been dubbed “Silkroad Seized Coins” on the Blockchain.info page.

The donations could be as small as .000001 BTC, but each one enabled users to post their opinions of the FBI’s closure of Silk Road – which, for the most part, were far from approving.

One public note directly referred to Dread Pirate Roberts’ arrest, saying that he was not “the bad guy,”and urging others not to be “brainwashed.” Another one questioned: “Members of the FBI, are you more interested in control or in justice?”

Particularly critical users blasted the “immoral government action” and demanded to “stop ruining peoples’ lives.” Anti-government and anti-tyranny quotes from famous historical figures followed.
Others doubted the effectiveness of shutting down an online network allegedly linked to illegal activities, such as drug and arms trafficking.

“Prohibition doesn’t work. Good try. Many more will rise,” one user wrote. A list of “alternatives” for Silk Road available through the Tor proxy network was also provided in one of the notes.

The rest simply “trolled” the US government, the FBI and other agencies with deriding messages. 
A screenshot from blockchain.info
A screenshot from blockchain.info

“This is a donation for the US government which is in desperate need for money these days. Consider this a small contribution to get around the fiscal cliff,” one message read, with another one boasting: “I’m Behind 7 Proxies.”

The public nature of the Bitcoin wallet also sparked a discussion among proponents of a transparent government. “Imagine if we could trace every single dollar the government spends? Why can’t we do that today? This is the age of the internet, but the gov’t is clouded in secrecy.”

Just two users congratulated the FBI for “great work,” but one of them raised hopes that the agency will now “crack down much more dangerous criminals,” suggesting HSBC bank as one such target.

While it has also been noted that the alleged FBI wallet could contain the largest online currency seizure ever made, the criminal complaint against Ulbricht suggests it to be only a small fraction of the Silk Road’s sales revenue, which is estimated at 600,000 Bitcoins.

An FBI spokesperson quoted by Forbes explained that the amount of Bitcoins already seized was held from Silk Road user accounts, and that the agency has not yet been able to get to Ulbricht’s own encrypted Bitcoin wallet.

“That’s like another $80 million worth,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.

The agency also appeared to be unsure what to do with the digital money trove once the Silk Road court case is closed.

“This is kind of new to us. We will probably just liquidate them,” the FBI spokesperson said.

Despite the controversy which has been surrounding Bitcoin currency in the US, a criminal complaint against Ulbricht states that “Bitcoins are not illegal in and of themselves and have known legitimate uses.”