James Howells, the IT worker who unwittingly discarded a hard drive containing what is now estimated to hold $75 million worth of bitcoin, knows where the missing hard drive is, but he can’t try to retrieve it. That’s because the city in which the fortune is buried won’t allow him to dig in the landfill.
The missing hard drive is sitting somewhere under 200,000 tons of garbage in a Newport, South Wales landfill.
Hard Drive Gets Trashed
Howells used an old laptop to mine a total of 7,500 bitcoins in 2009. Shortly thereafter, he sold the parts to the Dell M1710 on eBay after his girlfriend complained about the mining’s noise. He kept the hard drive in a drawer, just in case the bitcoins did increase in value. But he forgot about the hard drive, and four years later, he discarded it with the trash.
Howells has not been able to get permission from city council to dig into the landfill to retrieve the hard drive. Doing so would require specialized equipment that is normally used in criminal investigations.
He was told that a scenario where even the police had to go digging would require a team of 15, including diggers with mandatory personal protection equipment. He couldn’t fund such an operation, so he set up a wallet for donations: https://twitter.com/howelzy/status/405690499593699328
City Council Denies Permission
A Newport City Council spokesperson said someone has contacted them in the past about retrieving IT hardware containing bitcoins, but the council has balked on account of the costs of digging up the landfill and treating the waste, according to Wired. Such an effort would cost millions and be environmentally harmful, with no guarantee that a working drive would be recovered. About 50,000 tons of waste is added to the landfill every year.
A city council spokesperson said the drive has likely suffered serious galvanic corrosion from landfill leachates and gases. The landfill is not open to the public.
Howells has the public address for his bitcoin, so he knows the bitcoins have not been moved. Because the data is encrypted, anyone who finds the hard drive would need Howells’ help to access it.
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