Anonymity and privacy have been two major selling points for cryptocurrencies. While critics of cryptocurrency argue that these features have been facilitating criminal activities, proponents present the notion that banks have also been used by such bad actors and thus should follow the same line of criticism.

It has been a long-standing argument between users and deprecators of cryptocurrencies, and which has now been fueled by the latest take on it by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which recently expressed its ongoing operations to track anonymous transactions that were made using cryptocurrencies.

Why is this being done?

The operations were mentioned in a written statement to a Senate committee and subcommittee regarding the current illegal opioid crisis that is being faced by the U.S.

The statement, which was prepared by Greg Nevano, Deputy Assistant Director of ICE, explained the usage of fentanyl, a drug medically used to treat patients with severe pain but that is now being used for recreational purposes illegally within the U.S.

Nevano explained that fentanyl is 50-100 times stronger than morphine and thus is also far more addictive and deadlier than morphine – which is considered as one of the most addictive and dangerous drugs itself. He further mentioned that various measures are being taken to investigate and combat this epidemic.

The measures on controlling cryptocurrency transactions

Speaking of findings gathered during such measures, Nevano mentioned that the illicit import of the drug was tracked to online black markets, money service businesses (MSBs) and cryptocurrency payments.

As per Nevano, it was noticed that payments for such transactions largely include cryptocurrencies “such as Bitcoin or Monero, among many others.”

He then stated that ICE is employing investigation efforts to learn more about cryptocurrency transactions, and in doing so is using “undercover techniques to infiltrate and exploit peer-to-peer cryptocurrency exchangers who typically launder proceeds for criminal networks engaged in or supporting darknet marketplaces.”

He further mentioned that the agency  “leverages complex blockchain technology exploitation tools” to learn more about the details of these transactions and to “identify transactors.”

Nevano stated that ICE does not only investigate the transactions itself to find out about the owner records but that it also provides training to personnel from other institutions, such as national and international agencies, to facilitate them during their cryptocurrency investigations.  

What this means for cryptocurrencies

It brings about the same debate that was mentioned at the start of this piece.

With government agencies now openly propagating the exploitation of blockchain technology to break the barriers of cryptographic anonymity for defense against an epidemic, it remains to be seen if this topic will get mainstream attention within the community so it could be debated whether or not it is a good practice to compromise the anonymity of cryptocurrencies.