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Not even a TSA scanner can find a virtual currency.
Flying is the safest way to travel, statistically speaking, but you still have to actually make it onto the plane, and as a bizarre case involving a cryptocurrency demonstrates, sometimes that’s easier said than done.
“We saw Bitcoin in your bag,” Baker recalled, in a blog post, the agent saying. Bitcoin, being a virtual cryptocurrency, exhibits no physical properties whatsoever. They have no mass, volume, or density, and therefore wouldn’t even appear in a TSA body scanner.
As Baker tells it, he was transporting five tubes of metal lapel pins, which he’d recently taken to a Bitcoin conference to sell. According to Baker, the agents thought his pins were a stash of bitcoins. An agent instructed Baker to maintain a visual on his belongings, just before they separated him from his backpack, removing it from view while searching for traces of the virtual currency.
By regulation, anyone carrying more than $10,000 worth of cash through an airport must declare it. When the agents cited the rule to Baker, he responded by asking how much cash they suspected him of carrying. “It depends how much Bitcoin you have,” they allegedly said.
The case is more complicated than what Baker lets on, however. A TSA spokesman told TechCrunch that it was unable to identify the agents in question or verify the incident. And as TechCrunch notes, protocol for handling a traveler suspected of carring $10,000 would be to notify law enforcement, not request additional screening.
To be fair to the TSA, there have been attempts in the past to reproduce bitcoins in a physical form. As it turns out, mailing the tokens, which would contain concealed digital keys, is considered by the U.S. Treasury department to be “money transmitting,” which requires a special license. Casascius Bitcoins, for instance, were physical tokens in production for a time, but the owner halted operations in December after receiving an order from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FINCEN).
Illustration by Dell Cameron
Dell Cameron was a reporter at the Daily Dot who covered security and politics. In 2015, he revealed the existence of an American hacker on the U.S. government's terrorist watchlist. He is a co-author of the Sabu Files, an award-nominated investigation into the FBI's use of cyber-informants. He became a staff writer at Gizmodo in 2017.