With bitcoin surging past $8,000 Friday, the cryptocurrency gold rush is on. But one charity is trying to use interest in cryptocurrencies for a higher calling: pay bail for people who can’t afford it.
Bail Bloc is a project that aims to utilize spare computing capacity to mine the cryptocurrency monero, which will, over time, generate tens of thousands of dollars. This money will then be used to pay for bail for those who can’t afford it.
The project is the brainchild of the online publication The New Inquiry and the non-profit Bronx Freedom Fund, which raises money for bail for poor defendants. The fund will initially focus on New York City, but they want to expand it in 2018 and help as many as 160,000 people across more than three dozen cities in the next five years.
How does it work?
Users can download an app for their laptop or desktop computer that runs in the background and automatically uses 10 percent of their computer’s unused processing power to mine for monero. The people behind the project claim it won’t hinder the normal functioning of the computer.
At the end of every month, the monero is exchanged for U.S. dollars and the earnings are donated to the Bronx Freedom Fund.
The creators say that if 5,000 people use the app for 12 months, it could generate $150,000.
Users can decide to boost the percentage of their processing power up to 50 percent if they wish, though at that level they are likely to see some slowdown in anything else they are trying to do on the computer.
What is monero?
Monero is one of the hundreds of cryptocurrencies that have sprung up in the wake of bitcoin. One monero is currently worth around $123.
Unlike with bitcoin, users do not require huge computing power or specialized equipment to mine monero. Its main selling point is that it claims to be more secure, private, and untraceable than bitcoin.
However, these attributes have also made it attractive for criminals who have recently been found to be secretly mining monero by infecting people’s computers with malware.
“Hackers choose to mine monero because of what it offers in terms of anonymity but also because it has the best U.S. dollar return on mining using consumer-level hardware, relative to other cryptocurrencies,” Grayson Earle, an activist who originally came up with the idea for Bail Bloc, told VICE News. “In order for this project to be financially viable, monero was the way to go.”
Why cryptocurrency rather than cash donations?
In reality, very few people give a regular cash donation to all of the organizations that they support, the creators of Bail Bloc said, which is why they took the digital route.
“Cryptocurrency serves as a way to participate that increases the stake that individuals have in resisting the broken justice system,” JB Rubinovitz, a machine learning scientist and developer who helped create the app, told VICE News.
“This is about so much more than the money raised. When you run the app and share the project, you are part of a community of people working to end bail,” he added.
Will it make a difference?
According to the Department of Justice, there are about 450,000 people held in pretrial detention every day in the U.S. and many of them are only there because they can’t afford bail.
This leads to a vicious cycle where defendants remain inside the system, which can lead to further criminal behavior and perpetuate poverty.
In New York, where the vast majority of misdemeanor defendants have bail set at $1,000 or less, Bail Bloc could have a big impact, the group says.
The fund’s model allows for the money to be recycled, so if a defendant shows up in court on their appointed date — which happens 96 percent of the time for people helped by the Bronx Freedom Fund — the bail is refunded, and it can be used for someone else.
How much money has been raised?
“At the rate we are mining [as of Thursday], we are set to earn $1,000 by end of month,” Earle said. “Hopefully that number grows dramatically as more people share the project with others.”
According to the stats page of the app, 337 people were mining monero on Friday morning.