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ICE is tracking Bitcoin transactions, says The Intercept


The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, known as ICE, has contracted with Coinbase, the publicly traded crypto-currency exchange and custody firm, to track transactions across multiple blockchains underlying Bitcoin, Ether, and other currencies, according to an article published on Wednesday by The Intercept’s Sam Biddle. 

The software, called Coinbase Tracer, provides several capabilities for tracing transactions in blockchains, as explained by Biddle after reviewing a contract document that is linked to in the article, which was obtained by Tech Inquiry, a non-profit that develops open source software and uses it to track government procurement of tech by governments around the world. 

The news follows the publication of a Baylor College of Medicine/Rice University study this month that suggested the purported anonymity of crypto transactions can be violated by link analysis that traces the relatedness of unnamed digital wallets. 

As explained by Biddle, the ICE contract document with Coinbase, which Tech Inquiry got via a Freedom of Information Act, allows ICE to “track transactions made through nearly a dozen different digital currencies, including Bitcoin, Ether, and Tether,” and has “Analytic features [which] include ‘Multi-hop link Analysis for incoming and outgoing funds,’ granting ICE insight into transfers of these currencies, as well as ‘Transaction demixing and shielded transaction analysis’ aimed at thwarting methods some crypto users take to launder their funds or camouflage their transactions.”

Also: How one paper just blew up Bitcoin’s claim to anonymity

More details can be seen in the contract document’s “List of included services” section. The other cryptocurrencies include Bitcoin Cash (BCH ABC), Litecoin (LTC), Eos (EOS), Stellar (XLM), XRP (XRP), Zcash (ZEC), Dash (DASH), and Horizen (ZEN). The contract also notes, “All ERC-20 tokens are included with Ethereum,” referring to utility coins built off of the Ethereum blockchain.  

The software is offered on an “as a service” cloud subscription basis. 

Biddle notes that it had been reported last year by Vice’s Edward Ongweso that Coinbase won a $1.36 million contract with ICE, and it would appear that the Tracer program is part of that.  

Also: Don’t expect to make money on Bitcoin or any other crypto this year

Biddle writes that ICE did not respond to an inquiry by The Intercept, and Coinbase replied to an inquiry by pointing to a standard disclaimer on its Web site. 

ICE, a division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, not only participates in security investigations and immigration issues, but also looks into “broader transnational crimes as well, including various forms of financial offenses,” writes Biddle. 

Bidder picks up on the fact that an accompanying email document states that “there is no End User License Agreement (EULA) applicable to this license,” which may imply there are fewer restrictions on how the software can be used. 

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