RCMP studying Bitcoin to help solve crimes, emails show

RCMP studying Bitcoin
Bitcoin buttons are displayed on a table at the Inside Bitcoins conference in Berlin on Feb. 12, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Frank Jordans

The RCMP is looking at ways of solving and preventing crimes that involve virtual currencies such as Bitcoin, according to emails obtained from Canada’s anti-money laundering agency.

“I am running a major project on our end and my management would like your organization in as a possible stakeholder,” reads an email sent from the technological crime division of the RCMP to the Financial Transactions Reports Analysis Centre in May 2013.

“The project is in relation to Bitcoins and their manipulation/tracking etc.”

The email correspondence between the RCMP and FINTRAC was obtained under the Access to Information Act.

A spokeswoman for the police force confirmed that the research initiative seeks to “identify investigative methodology, tools and techniques to prevent and solve crimes involving crypto currencies, such as Bitcoin.”

Canada has long been seen as a haven for Bitcoin entrepreneurs due to a lack of federal rules governing the use of virtual currencies. Canada was the first country to receive a Bitcoin ATM, in the summer of 2013, partly thanks to the lax regulations.

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But Ottawa has recently suggested it plans to start tightening its grip on the emerging digital currency, which is exchanged through computer networks and is not issued or monitored by a central bank or any other authority.

During his final budget in February before he died in April, former finance minister Jim Flaherty announced plans to bring Bitcoin under Canada’s anti-money laundering regime.

Although Bitcoin transactions are transmitted to a public network to be verified and are thus accessible to anyone, the only information contained about the users involved in the transaction are their Internet Protocol, or IP, addresses.

READ MORE: Internal Finance memo warns of potential for Bitcoin-related crime

The relative ease with which users can mask their identities by changing their IP addresses has raised concerns that the currency can be used to finance criminal activities.

The RCMP would not provide any further details about the research project, but the emails sent back and forth between the RCMP and FINTRAC suggest the initiative relates to Ottawa’s plans to add virtual currencies to its anti-money laundering laws.

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