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Australian authorities clamp down on Bitcoin misuse

A top Australian law enforcement agency is investigating whether the virtual currency Bitcoin is being used in organised crime, a senior official has said.

Australian Crime Commission Executive Judy Lind said they will monitor the “misuse of virtual currencies to facilitate criminal activity” at a national and international level, under an operation named Project Longstrike.

"We know that virtual currencies including bitcoin are used as payment methods to facilitate illicit trade on the darknet," Lind told Reuters.

Darknet is one of the synonyms for “Deep Web” - internet sites that don’t show up on search engine results and where illegal activities, such as selling narcotics, are often conducted.

The cryptocurrency gained much popularity because it retains anonymity as payments can be made without needing to give personal information.

"Organized crime groups continue to make use of darknets to harbour trading in illicit commodities, including child exploitation material, illicit drugs and firearms, stolen credit card and identity data, and hacking techniques”, Lind said.

And, as Bitcoin struggles to position itself as a regular, fully legal currency, law enforcement agencies around the world are investigating and arresting people using the cryptocurrency for illegal activities.

Last month the alleged primary moderator of Silk Road, a darknet site where people bought illegal drugs using bitcoins, was extradited to the USA, and in October, police seized Queensland’s first bitcoin ATM five months after it opened under suspicion that it was used by gangs to sell crystal meth.