Europol, the European Union’s top law enforcement agency in charge of criminal intelligence, is urging legislators to provide law enforcement with greater powers to identify criminal activities online, including digital money laundering.

Europol is not a law enforcement agency in the traditional sense, but rather furnishes EU law enforcement agencies with support, including intelligence, information exchange, expertise and training.

The organisation launched the European Cybercrime Centre last year, and one of its goals is to target organised groups that make their money online.

Digital currencies as an instrument to facilitate crime

Speaking at a security conference on 24th March, Europol head Rob Wainwright issued statements that suggest he believes law enforcement agencies are ill-equipped to crack down on those who use digital currencies for illicit means, Reuters reports.

Said Wainwright:

“We’re seeing that virtual currencies are being used as an instrument to facilitate crime, particularly in regard to the laundering of illicit profits.” 

Wainwright went on to argue that police should be given new powers that enable them to identify criminals online. He warned that police simply do not have the capabilities to operate online and identify criminals operating in “dark areas” of the internet, or the deep web.

The deep web is of course the vice-ridden part of the World Wide Web, used also by many privacy lovers, but its relative anonymity has also attracted a sizable cybercrime community. Pseudo-anonymous digital currencies like bitcoin remain one of few viable payment systems on the deep web.

The case for greater enforcement

Wainwright warned that criminals are “abusing freedoms” made possible by technology to damage society and potentially threaten the security of millions.

His sentiment is shared by a growing number of digital currency advocates, who have grown tired of people associating bitcoin with black hat hackers, Silk Road and ransomware.

Earlier this year, Irish lawmaker Patrick O’Donovan called for a parliamentary probe into digital currencies and their effect on illicit financial transactions. He warned that digital currencies and the deep web have effectively created an online supermarket for illegal goods and services, and called for an EU-wide response to the problem.

Although the risk of digital currencies being used for money laundering and crime is often overstated, many can agree that when it comes to organised criminal syndicates, the threat of abuse is real.

Image credit: robert paul van beets / Shutterstock.com

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