Project TITANIUM: The EU’s Plan to Decloak Cryptocurrency
Monitor blockchains, deanonymize wallet addresses, surveil dark net markets, and stop terrorists and money launderers: that’s the main thrust of the European Union’s Project TITANIUM.
TITANIUM, which stands for Tools for the Investigation of Transactions in Underground Markets, is a three-year, €5 billion ($5.5 billion) project that will unite universities, private research firms and law enforcement agencies from the U.K., Germany, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands and Finland.
Project TITANIUM will develop tools and best practices for criminal investigations involving cryptocurrency in Europe, which, up to now, most law enforcement agencies have pursued on an ad-hoc basis.
The project plans to create forensic tools to spot clusters of addresses controlled by the same entity; identify mixers or tumbler addresses used for money laundering; crawl the webs, both clear and dark; and automate information gathering about illegal activities.
The project’s coordinator, Dr. Ross King of the Austrian Institute of Technology, said that criminal and terrorist uses of cryptocurrencies and dark net markets “evolve quickly.” King also insisted that Project TITANIUM would respect “citizen privacy.”
Project TITANIUM’s announcement comes just a few weeks after the ransomware worm WannaCry disabled hundreds of thousands of computers in more than 150 countries. As of June 15, 2017, the hardcoded wallet addresses used by the attackers have collected about 50 BTC in ransom payments.
The project’s scope covers terrorism, as well as crime, and back-to-back attacks in Manchester and London have ignited calls for more sweeping government action to combat extremism.
On June 4, 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May called for “international agreements to regulate cyberspace” and to deny violent extremists “safe spaces” online. With terrorism in the background, cooperation on internal security matters like Project TITANIUM is likely to continue even after the U.K. formally exits the EU.
The call for more surveillance comes despite the fact that the United Kingdom already has one of the most wide-ranging surveillance laws, the Investigatory Powers Act, which went into force December 30, 2016.
Nicknamed the Snooper’s Charter, the act requires ISPs keep record of all websites users visit for one year and allows police and other public agencies to check anyone’s history without a warrant.
Meanwhile, the EU is mulling a more direct approach to the problem of cryptocurrency. According to a proposed directive released on March 9, 2017, the EU could require exchanges and wallet providers to submit account owners’ identities to a central database.
The directive goes on that “virtual currencies should not be anonymous,” and that the anonymity or pseudo-anonymity of cryptocurrencies is “more a hindrance than an asset” for legitimate users.
The rules would not just apply to bitcoin, but all “virtual currencies,” and would effectively ban anonymous cryptocurrency, at least in the EU. The proposed directive is intended to combat money laundering and terrorism, despite scant evidence that cryptocurrencies play a prominent role in either.
Nevertheless, with or without evidence that they are empowering terrorists, the anonymous or pseudo-anonymous nature of cryptocurrencies is threatening to European lawmakers, and whether through legislation or projects like TITANIUM, they intend to decloak cryptocurrency.