Could there be a world where blackmail is legal? Doubtful. However, a world where blackmail becomes a norm and nearly impossible to prosecute could become a reality. Take the recent news about Mitt Romney being exhorted by alleged Bitcoin-savvy burglars. These burglars supposedly broke into PriceWaterhouseCoopers and liberated copies of Mitt Romney’s tax returns. They are giving the Romney camp until September 28th to pay up one million dollars equivalent in Bitcoin or face publication of the tax returns. What is even more interesting is the inclusion of another option; one million dollars equivalent in Bitcoin to a different address would result in immediate publication of the tax returns. Although there is only a little over $30 at the addresses right now it will be interesting to see if any big payments occur.
However, a question remains, even if the blackmailer received his million dollar hush-money, what would stop him from publicizing his ill-gotten goods anyways? This is the quandary created by Bitcoin. It allows totally anonymous entities to receive payments. With conventional blackmail, someone has to pick-up the briefcase filled with cash. Since the blackmailer can’t be tracked to his Bitcoin address, it both makes it harder for law enforcement to locate the criminal, and easier for the blackmailer to never reveal his identity. So there is nothing to stop him from revealing the information after he receives payment. In conventional blackmailing, there might be a crooked lawyer involved who could reveal the blackmailer’s identity if the information did come to light, but Bitcoin removes the identity aspect from the equation.
There might be a solution though. Consider online sites that require users to place trust in other users, namely: eBay. The way eBay handles malicious users that retract on their promises is through user reviews. Reputations take time and effort to maintain. It is hard to fake reputation. Reputation is valuable and ample leverage for blackmail. So, although I doubt victims would “rate” their blackmailers, keeping a log of actions committed by blackmailers would allow them to build a reputation.
So, blackmailers could hold their reputation on the line in exchange for Bitcoin payoffs. Blackmailers would create a handle and verify the handle in public communiqué using GPG. From there, blackmailers would be able to create a string of blackmailing and prove to their victims that they are both serious and trustworthy (at least in regards of not revealing the secretive info).
In the future, could we be living in a world of fear, constantly checking a Tor site for blackmail? Probably not! But it’s definitely a possibility… In any case, I’d clear out those skeletons still left in your closet.
**I don’t condone blackmailing