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Increased Power Usage Leads to Mistaken Pot Busts for Bitcoin Miners 411

Posted by samzenpus
from the earn-virtual-money-from-home dept.
c0lo writes "The Canadian town of Mission, BC has a bylaw that allows the town's Public Safety Inspection Team to search people's homes for grow ops if they are using more than 93 kWh of electricity per day. There have allegedly been reports floating in IRC of two different cases of police showing up at a Bitcoin miner's residence with a search warrant. Ohio police and the DEA file at least 60 subpoenas each month for energy-use records of people suspected of running an indoor pot growing operation. DEA Agent Anthony Marotta said high electricity usage does not always mean the residence is an indoor pot farm and has surprised federal agents. 'We thought it was a major grow operation ... but this guy had some kind of business involving computers. I don't know how many computer servers we found in his home.'"
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Increased Power Usage Leads to Mistaken Pot Busts for Bitcoin Miners

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  • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @05:32PM (#36232804) Journal

    Dude's probably buying drugs with his bitcoins.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Better use of the electicity

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @05:38PM (#36232876)

    Seriously, this is getting annoying. Editors, you guys need to knock it off. The bitcoin fanatics are using you as an advertising push. It is getting annoying. Leave off it already.

    • by diamondmagic (877411) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @05:48PM (#36233024) Homepage

      This story only happens to involve Bitcoin. Bitcoin or not, this is Your Rights Online. The notion you could get raided just because of what you do with your own time and money is outrageous.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by superwiz (655733)
        But he wasn't raided. It just gave a probable cause for a search. Generally high correlation with criminal activity does seem like a justified probable cause. It's not like he got jailed or, worse, convicted on something. In fact, the "probable" in "probable cause" can be interpreted to mean correlation. If you set the bar any higher, you would actually be demanding to show actual cause (rather than probable cause). How's that for a rant derived from "correlation does not imply causation?"
    • by cyberworm (710231) <cyberworm@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @05:50PM (#36233062) Homepage
      While I can see your annoyance at the recent spade of bitcoin articles, this is interesting outside of bitcoin. What if you had a beowulf clusters or stacks of machines running folding or other, arguably, more useful applications. High energy usage or a sudden spike in power consumption shouldn't be probable cause in and of itself.

      I dread to think what would happen if a sudden and consistent spike in energy usage were probable cause where I live. I went two years without a television, with my main drains on electricity being my laptop, speakers, and my fridge. Once I picked up an older 50" plasma monitor and started playing my PS3 I noticed a considerable increase in cost/use. Should I have my door kicked in because I might be growing weed, even though the reality is much more innocuous (smoking weed and playing video games)?
      • by billcopc (196330) <vrillco@yahoo.com> on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @06:19PM (#36233328) Homepage

        Pragmatically, this whole ordeal should be a non issue. If people want to grow pot in their homes, let them. Big fuckin' deal!

        The only reason pot is so demonized is because it's easy to identify and prosecute. It is, by far, the least damaging "drug" in the western world. I'm way more worried about getting a heart attack from too much Advil, unsurprisingly due to the stress caused by all these conservative idiots trying to tell people how to live their lives. The pothead next door, while annoying with his brain-damanged music tastes and lack of valuable employment, is far less harmful to my existence than the trillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry that wants me to be sick 24-7 so I can consume their overpriced filth.

        I think the Bitcoin thing is a very short-lived fad. The more people get in on it, the less valuable it becomes. The guy who's getting raided this week, well next week would have dropped out anyway once the mining "difficulty" doubles and he's suddenly spending more on hydro and Radeon 5970's than he's getting back in funny money. Big whoop!

        • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @07:30PM (#36234028)

          "The pothead next door, while annoying with his brain-damanged music tastes and lack of valuable employment"

          I now you were just being colorful and hyperbolic, but I feel that I should let you know that, if I am the pothead next door to you, it is statistically probable that I make more money, work harder and am in better shape than you. If people like me were safe to "out" themselves as potsmokers, your stereotypes would crumble.

      • Read the article (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @06:43PM (#36233562)

        The first four paragraphs are nothing but gushing about bitcoins, no mention of the bust at all. The 5ths finally makes a mention of the power thing and then there's a bit of talk about the alleged bust from the wonderfully reliable source of "IRC". Then more shit about how bitcoin is a cool "P2P" currency then a video about bitcoins.

        The fucking thing is a bitcoin promotion and just more of the "Oh look at how awesome and scary it is!" crap. I have serious doubts the event in question ever happened. This is astroturfing.

        Any journalist will tell you that you lead with the most important stuff. Each subsequent paragraph is less likely to be read. So if this was about rights and a real event the first paragraph would go more along the lines of:

        "What was supposed to be a bust for a pot growing operation went wrong for police when the discovered a house with nothing but a large number of computers working overtime. Police obtained a warrant for the house of $some_guy due to energy company records showing an unusually high amount of usage, often a sign of a marijuana growing location. However no drugs were found, instead just mean computers which were engaged in a process called 'bitcoin mining."

        Then maybe a paragraph about bitcoins, then one about drug ops and power usage and so on. That it starts with bitcoins and goes for 5 paragraphs tells you that the article is all about that, not the supposed rights issue.

    • by Ultra64 (318705)

      Or you could just not click on stories you aren't interested. (It's hard I know, but I bet you can do it)

  • by Bieeanda (961632) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @05:38PM (#36232880)
    They spent more on those machines, and on the electricity to run them, than they ever will 'mining' bitcoins.
    • by SaroDarksbane (1784314) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @05:55PM (#36233126)
      I assume you meant "than they ever will gain mining bitcoins."

      If that's the case, it's hard to say what their expected ROI will be. I know that in my case, I already had a 5850 in my machine (a very good mining GPU) and thus, with a little bit of luck I've 'mined' 150 coins in a month. At the current exchange rate, those coins would we worth ~$1000 dollars if I cashed out now, and I really only paid for electricity. Depending on the hardware they bought, and when they started (the difficulty has really ramped up in the last couple weeks), they could be sitting on a nice payout, assuming they aren't dumb enough to try dumping them all onto the market at once.

      For my part, I'm interested in bitcoins as a viable currency and not just as some bizarre experiment in cryptographic "stock" to dump when I need some extra spending cash, so I expect I'll be holding onto mine until I can get some actual goods with them.

      (Also, I hate the term 'mining'. It's really more like 'accounting', but it's probably too late to change anything.)
  • by wmbetts (1306001) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @05:39PM (#36232890)

    So if you want to grow pot mine a bunch of bitcoins and get the police to inspect your house. Once that's done setup your grow operation, because the suspicion has been relieved?

    • Or leave your AC on 65 for a month, or say you have SAD and have a ton of lights on in your house for months without pot.

      Sort of an investment. But they may not do anything for months before hitting you.

      It's odd because with LED and CFL grow lights it seems to me your power consumption should be 1/6th to 1/3rd what it used to be.

      • by rhook (943951)

        LED and CFL bulbs make for very poor grow lights. Growers who know what they are doing use high-pressure sodium and metal halide bulbs.

  • by artor3 (1344997) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @05:41PM (#36232946)

    "Rumors floating around IRC" strikes me as somewhere between Fox News and Homeless Guy on Street Corner in terms of credibility. This is exactly the sort of story that someone would make up as a joke, and people would repeat as though it's real.

    • I assume that the spectrum goes:
    • by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @05:55PM (#36233118) Homepage Journal
      I assumed it was made up by the Bitcoin guys to get them some more publicity and to make it look like people actually took them seriously.
      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        I assumed it was made up by the Bitcoin guys to get them some more publicity and to make it look like people actually took them seriously.

        Considering this is the third or so story about Bitcoin, I'm guessing someone has hired a marketing firm/intern to get these stories out there.
        That's the only real explanation for how these stories are getting planted around the web.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      I honestly don't know of anywhere that allows city statues(bylaws) to trump provincial and federal legislation in Canada(there are a few exceptions for Toronto at the provincial level but that's it). Something isn't right in this story, and I think it's the entire thing. In Canada you need to have reasonable and probable grounds to get a warrant, power usage isn't enough for that. And I can't see some city trying to pull a 'safety inspection' pile of crap, being that any lawyer here will tell them off t

      • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @06:06PM (#36233210) Journal

        Yes BC has a serious problem with grow-ops

        In what way are grow-ops a problem? The only possible problem I can conceive is that there aren't enough of them. I know that's not the case in BC.

        • by Mashiki (184564)

          You mean the man traps, electrical code violations caused by, bypassing mains, and cutting through everything in order to run ducting, and in turn causing structural damage? I guess none of those are problems.

      • by IshmaelDS (981095)
        It is in fact a "safety inspection". I believe they do need a warrant to get into your home unless you let them in, I don't know if the would need extra evidence to get the warrant or not. here is a link. BCLocalNews [bclocalnews.com]. There is also a $5200 that can be charged to you regardless of if you have a grow op or not, though it is not always charged. here is another link Globe&Mail [theglobeandmail.com]
  • So I watched the little video in the article but I don't understand why or how anyone would accept bitcoins as currency. Can anyone explain to me how running an application on your computer to 'make' currency produces anything of value?
    • by obarel (670863)

      Apparently if you run a social network application on your computer it makes you worth 50 billion dollars.

    • by Ecuador (740021) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @05:53PM (#36233102) Homepage

      It is a scam. The bitcoin production difficulty is exponential, so the first few people who designed the system easily produced a big percentage of the total possible bitcoins (Over 6 million out of the total 21 million scheduled to be produced until the year 2140 are already taken) and now they are doing everything they can to give them value. So, those that "accept" bitcoins as currency are those that have a vested interest in them gaining value.
      Basically you are using more and more power for the chance to produce a virtual "coin", so you are not producing value, just hurting the environment and if enough stupid people follow your example you will make a few scammers rich.

      • by mestar (121800)

        "The bitcoin production difficulty is exponential"

        Difficulty can go down as well.

        Production difficulty is not set by anybody, it is just that right now bitcoin is becoming very popular so lost of people are mining. In fact, production of bitcoins is linear, 50 bitcoins each 10 minutes or so on average, but this will go down every 4 years. Nothing exponential about it.

        Would you say e-gold was a scam as well? About $600 million was put into e-gold until US government shut it down. Only difference is that b

      • by Eric(b0mb)Dennis (629047) on Wednesday May 25, 2011 @02:46AM (#36236520)

        Thank you. Finally someone else who sees bitcoin for what it really is.

        It's an elaborate ponzi scheme designed to generate insane interest at the very beginning (due to people starting getting crazy amounts of BTC).. in turn these people become huge vested in increasing bitcoin's value.. so much so that they becomes fanatics and thus you see stories like this EVERYWHERE these days... more interest is generated by seeing people with 1000s of coins and a $7 exchange rate, leading to a huge influx of more people looking to generate coins, so on and so forth
        i've said it before and i'll say it again

        In the beginning of BTC mining, the FEW people who programmed/used their own personal GPU miners on huge farms (while everyone else was still using CPU) are the only ones who are going to benefit (See more that a couple thousand dollars) from this crap... everything else is just increasing value for these guys.

    • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @05:54PM (#36233114) Journal

      As I understand it, the process doesn't create anything of inherent value, but it serves to limit supply - same way that gold is difficult to find and mine, is of limited industrial use (and thus limited intrinsic value), and tends to just sit around in vaults once it's been refined, but is still traded and invested in.

      The key difference, of course, is that the value of gold has more 'inertia' since there are far, far more people who buy into the notion that gold has value. Bitcoin is pretty volatile because there are far fewer people with a vested interest (in the most literal sense of the term) in its maintained value, and because people find it easier to accept the value of a shiny metal with thousands of years of history than that of a cryptographically signed set of data.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      The same way running a press to 'make' currency produces anything of value. It doesn't. The machine makes the item, but the value comes from us.

      • by petermgreen (876956) <plugwash@p10link ... inus threevowels> on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @06:57PM (#36233724) Homepage

        Right which brings us to the key difference between bitcoin and regular government money.

        Government money has value because you HAVE to use it to deal with the government and dealing with the governement is basically unavoidable. Many private sellers don't take anything other than government money (or bank credits that are effectively equivilent to government money) either.

        OTOH bitcoins can only be spent at a relatively small number of places most of which take government currency (or bank credits that are effectively equivilent to government currency) as well. So there is far more chance of it becoming worthless in a relatively short time. Especially if governments start trying to crack down on users.

        • Anyone owed a debt in the US (for instance), must accept US dollars as payment. That's what the notice "this note is legal tender [wikipedia.org] for all debts, public and private" means on dollars. The same is not true for bitcoins--I can freely refuse payment in bitcoins, and the government can do nothing about it. That's a large component of the reason why people like dollars.

    • by PitaBred (632671)

      It doesn't. It creates a medium of exchange that all players on the network agree upon, and cannot change unilaterally.

      You think your US government backed cash has any actual value to it? It has as much (or as little) value as the people who hold it believe it does. Same with bitcoins. It's effectively a cryptographically secure, peer-to-peer financial system. It doesn't contain value, just like no monetary system since the gold standard actually contained value.

    • by mestar (121800)

      It would be something similar to Paypal, just without somebody telling you what you can do or can't (poker) do with your money. Also nobody can freeze your account. Also, free or very low transaction fees.

      Also, you can't buy them directly from a company, you have to use trading exchanges to buy and sell them, so the price fluctuates.

      If you accept Paypal as something you can use to buy stuff with, you can accept bitcoin, or at least I don't wee why not.

      • The fact that nobody can effectively freeze your account/restrict who you send money to is, IMO, one of the main strengths of Bitcoin. Think of stuff like Wikileaks losing paypal.

        There's also the fact that transfers are one way (no withdrawals). People can't take bitcoins from you, only you decide what to do with it.

    • by mestar (121800)

      What it produces in an ability that I can send you "something" from my computer to your computer without any central authority, so that you can be sure that I don't have that same thing anymore. And I can't cheat.

      If you think about it, it is an interesting problem, because, how can you be sure that I indeed do not have that "something" on my computer. What happens if, after I send you that "something", I restore my computer from backup?

      That is what the application produces, and that is what have value for

  • Seems to me as these "probable cause based on power usage" continue and more and more intrusions of this nature should lead to law suits against the police and hopefully disallowing power use as a criteria for determining probable cause. That's a bullshit way of doing law enforcement. I run a server at my home. I'll be damned if I am going to sit idle if I were to have a search warrant against me based on stupid crap like that.

  • by stoicfaux (466273) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @05:47PM (#36233022)

    Great, just great. I can see the calls for banning solar energy technology since it allows drug lords to escape detection via electric meters.

    Just imagine the rhetoric: "Only pot-farmers use solar energy." "Support HB123 to place export controls on drug energy technology to Mexico!" "Off grid, on drugs!" "Tell the police if your neighbor has gone wireless!"

    • by Firethorn (177587)

      Great, just great. I can see the calls for banning solar energy technology since it allows drug lords to escape detection via electric meters.

      Entirely possible, but in most areas I'd simply go for extensive sun-roofs instead. Solar-electric panels are expensive. The install costs for a sun-roof might be higher, but the panels/windows are a lot cheaper, even if you can only get sun for half the day that way.

    • by DCFusor (1763438) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @10:08PM (#36235280) Homepage
      Don't laugh at this one. My computer consulting firm, deep in the boonies, was raided as a drug operation. It wasn't but in talking to them we discovered that having solar panels was part of the profiling done on us, as it indicates "pot growing". Which of course is stupid. We do run on solar, but it's way not enough to grow pot in any amount worth it. That's what they make the rest of the boonies for -- outdoors. FWIW, the profiling was: Has domestic disputes (I prevented a suicide and they knew that) People come and go (employees) People at all hours (we called it flex time) Those people look rich and happy (it was a great place to work, and high pay) Owner rarely leaves (no need, my business is on the same campus as my house) Owner is rich (see above) Just because the DEA is stupid, doesn't mean it doesn't cost a lot in court fees to make them go away, and the damage they do they never pay for. And due to all those rarely enforced laws on the books, they'll by golly find SOMETHING to bust you for once they've done their "dynamic entry" - count on it.
  • by mothlos (832302) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @05:56PM (#36233142)
    Three Bitcoin articles on the front page in as many weeks? Sure, this one is a bit sideways, but seriously, the number of people involved with Bitcoin is insignificantly small and should remain that way. Stop hyping this project which is either an ill-fated experiment or a scam.
  • by fermion (181285) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @05:58PM (#36233156) Homepage Journal
    Someone needs to tell Julian and Ricky that they can cover their pot growing operation with servers. Cops bust in see the servers and never look for the pot. Of couse I doubt that anyone would be competent to set up the serves. Maybe J-Roc.

    But seriously, this is the kind of thing that has really killed the world. Here we have a weed that is one of the most perfect and useful plants in existence. Because of fundamentalist faith based lawmaking and general greed it is banned for most purposes. Of course some would say that it damages kids, but how about the legal drugs? The Pfizer commercials tells kids they can only be happy with drugs. Someone like Rush Limbaugh can afford to be a prescription drug addict, and maybe old people in the US with medicare part D, but the average person has to go with the unregulated stuff. It would be nice if kids were not told that drug use is good, and I certainly believe that drug use in general is a losing game, but there we have it. Corporate drugs good, plants are bad.

    On top of the insanity of jailing people for growing plants or using plants simply because that plant has not been awarded the special corporate status of tabacco, is just the beginning. So we now have these indoor operation using huge amounts of dirty power that contributes god knows how much to global warming, killing the future even for the kids that aren't addicted to Zoloft. All this waste because growers are forced indoors. Of course in canada part of the problem is the short growing season, but really, it is arguable that the time of the police would be better spent arresting doctors for frivolously doping kids so that they don't annoy their parents.

  • I'm going to repeat the comment I made on the Time story covering this [time.com] 2 hours ago:

    I hate to tell you, but it never happened. This is an AMD TV commercial (available on Youtube [youtube.com]) saying, basically, run Nvidia and get raided for running a pot growing operation due to excessive power usage.

    Oh, and a side note, in the US, the power companies DO regularly report users with sudden spikes of excessive power usage that are indicative of grow ops. This data is volunteered by the power companies, and the police do no

  • I can't remember exactly where, but someone suggested that this might be a possibility on one of the Bitcoin forums. A day later, someone said in an IRC channel that they had been raided. I'm pretty sure they made it up based on the previous day's speculation. And now a website has picked up the IRC claim, and now Slashdot picks up that website's claim. As far as I can tell there's no backing that this supposed drug bust ever happened, but it's pyramiding into bigger and bigger news based on nothing.
  • by squeegee_boy (319210) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @06:13PM (#36233288)
    ...but the grow-op "inspections" in Mission, B.C. are quite real:

    Article [theglobeandmail.com]

    It's an attempted end-run around obtaining a search warrant, which would require more than just higher than average power consumption. The way it works is the municipality sends a bylaw inspector to a home for a "safety inspection" after someone notices that the power consumption at the residence is higher than it should be.

    The inspector can't force his way in, but a bit of bullying and a stern "What have you got to hide?" or "I'll come back with a warrant and make your week difficult" is often all that's necessary, especially if the homeowner in question isn't actually doing anything wrong, and isn't used to dealing with stuff like this. The inspector brings along a police escort for "safety and security." Convenient.

    The inspector looks around, and if he finds a grow op, well, hey, lookee here, the police just happened to be down the hall! Now they don't need a search warrant because it wasn't "a police search."

    If the inspector finds nothing illegal, he (often but not always) presents the homeowner in question with a bill for the inspection, which can range from $5k to $10k.

    Good news though: A few days ago, the BC Supreme Court has issued a giant "fark you" to the practice:

    Article [theglobeandmail.com]

  • by hackus (159037) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @06:25PM (#36233392) Homepage

    You should only have enough electricity for your Television to watch IDOL, FOX and CNN and that is all!!

    Anything more and you are a terrorist!!!!

    We will send the TSA immediately into your home to grab your balls, your breasts or open your kids diapers!!!!

    That will show everyone that we just need to keep people safe to stop these terrorists!!!

    Mr. Goldstein is _everywhere_ but with your sacrifices we _WILL_ _GET_ _HIM_!!!

    Report anything you see to your local threat fusion center immediately!!!

    Keep an eye on your neighbors so we can keep you safe!

    -DHS

  • by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex AT ... trograde DOT com> on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @06:35PM (#36233492)

    I think it's high time we think about extending the 2nd amendment (Right to bear arms), to include technology.

    I know they're not busting in to raid a Bitcoin factory, but that doesn't mean they wont in the future.

    I'm a coder, and occasionally I write ciphers. Lately I wrote a block cipher system that takes any hash algo, data stream, and a pass-phrase, and produces encrypted output via a type of Cipher Block Chaining on hash-length sized blocks (MD5=160bit, SHA1=256bit, SHA512=512bit encryption, and beyond; Bonus, any new hash comes out, implement it and bingo, stronger encryption).

    I came very close to being in violation of federal law when I posted my program on my blog. Fortunately a friend told me that my program was considered extremely dangerous to the government, and that if anyone outside of the US downloaded it, I could be heavily fined and/or jailed. I immediately removed the code, and checked the server logs; Fortunately only my friend had downloaded it.

    I didn't know that all strong encryption ciphers have to be registered with the US government [doc.gov] (like firearms!? -- Strength at or above 64bit symmetric or 768 asymmetric, or 128 for elliptic curve), and that export of software that can perform encryption must be approved by the government before you put it online, or else it could be considered trafficking illegal controlled software.

    I was told by some that if your code was open source, you could just fill out a form, and you were pre-approved, but I don't think that's the case anymore. [doc.gov]

    I've been tinkering with ciphers since I was 10 -- I don't think anyone outside the US got a hold of my tinker-code, but who knows? We swapped code at HAL-PC SIG's all the time...

    With today's government's lack of respect for our freedoms and esp. digital privacy, I think it's time we added the right to bear technology & math, esp. cryptography to the Bill of Rights.

    Hey, If I can be prosecuted for distributing my ciphers under the "munitions export restrictions" laws, then does that mean I already can assert my 2nd amendment privileges to USE MY PC TO TWIDDLE BITS? Does freedom of speech (1st amendment) not give me the right to post some byte-code hex to my blog? (Looks like it's illegal to sell your Beowulf Cluster on Ebay too. [doc.gov])

  • Yeeash! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by brit74 (831798) on Tuesday May 24, 2011 @09:40PM (#36235122)
    I saw some of the comments saying that the article reads like an advertisement for bitcoin, so I took a look. Holy crap! They even embedded a promotional video for bitcoin in the article. The bitcoin guys are really, really trying to make millions off this, and they're obviously pushing these pseudo-news-articles to drum up fame and fortune. And, just to be clear, the claim that the police raided a home was based on a rumor seen on an IRC chat ("Blogger Mike Esspe captured an IRC chat that supports the rumor floating around that at least one bitcoin miner has been arrested."). Uh huh. That's news now. And despite the claim that "at least one bitcoin miner has been arrested", the IRC chat actually says the police showed up, looked around, and left. Apparently, "has been arrested" has a totally new meaning in the pseudo-news-article world of bitcoin.

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