The NSA Has Been Tracking Bitcoin Users, Snowden Documents Reveal

Thursday, 22 Mar, 2018

First reported by the Intercept, the findings in the paper suggest that surveillance of cryptocurrencies remains a priority for the agency, amongst its broader tech surveillance agenda.

Bitcoin is a digital currency which uses encryption to regulate its units of currency.

The U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been reportedly monitoring the bitcoin blockchain with an eye on identifying users on the distributed network. The tracking potentially also involved collecting intimate details of the computers these users employed. According to the memo, Bitcoin user passwords, device identifiers, and session data has all been collected in the name of surveillance. From the outset, cryptocurrencies were created to circumvent the control of banks and provide discretion for financial transactions. On the other hand, Governments with vested interest in exercising control over how money moved, would naturally try to thwart the new financial order that was just about germinating, or that is what some of the fierce advocates of bitcoin believed.

Conspiracy theorists who have long suspected the USA government of trying to thwart the growth of a decentralized cryptocurrency market may be onto something, according to a report by The Intercept published on Tuesday.

Bitcoin users were tracked through MONKEYROCKET, one of the subprograms of OAKSTAR, a secret surveillance umbrella program that was unveiled by Snowden in 2013.

The NSA notes state further that part of a long term strategy for MONKEYROCKET included attracting targets involved in terrorism to use the "browsing product" which could then be exploited by the NSA.

Financial privacy "is something that matters incredibly" to the Bitcoin community, Emin Gun Sirer, associate professor and co-director of the Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Contracts at Cornell University, told The Intercept. After learning about the NSA's operations, it is highly likely that people who are privacy-conscious will certainly consider moving to other privacy-oriented options.

This news has come at a crucial time when the United States government has stated that its concerned by the illicit use of digital currencies, especially in terrorism financing and also money laundering.