Rep. Rice introduces bill to examine use of virtual currencies for terrorist activities

U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) introduced legislation that directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to conduct a threat assessment regarding the use of virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin, to carry out or support terrorist activities.

The Homeland Security Assessment of Terrorists’ Use of Virtual Currencies Act (H.R. 2433) comes days after the WannaCry cyberattack infected more than 200,000 computers around the world with ransomware – software that seizes a computer’s data and demands a ransom payment in Bitcoin in exchange for the data’s return.

“Last week’s unprecedented ransomware attack demonstrated how rapidly cyber-threats are evolving and how urgently governments and private companies must evolve to protect themselves,” Rice said. “Research suggests that terrorists’ use of virtual currencies has been limited so far, but with groups like ISIS becoming more technologically sophisticated and virtual currencies becoming more accessible, the table is set for this threat to grow significantly in a very short time. We need to confront this threat immediately, and the first step is to fully assess and understand it.”

A recent report by the Center for a New American Security examines the potential threat of virtual currencies being used on a larger scale to finance terrorist activities and support terrorist organizations. To combat this threat, the report recommends that policymakers and intelligence and oversight officials take steps to better understand and more closely monitor the evolving threat.

Rice’s bill requires the Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis of the Department of Homeland Security, in coordination with appropriate federal partners, to develop and disseminate a threat assessment regarding the actual and potential threat posed by individuals using virtual currency to carry out terrorist activities and/or provide support or resources to a Foreign Terrorist Organization.

The threat assessment must be completed within 120 days of the bill’s enactment, and will be shared with state, local and tribal law enforcement officials, including officials that operate within state and major urban area fusion centers through the DHS State, Local and Regional Fusion Center Initiative.