18:51 GMT03 March 2021
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    Bitcoin has been making rapid advances in the past month, topping $41,000 on 8 January – an all-time high mark since the cryptocurrency’s release 12 years ago. These figures have kindled regret among those who cashed in the digital currency before its peak this year.

    Welsh IT engineer James Howells is not giving up his attempts to retrieve a lost hard drive from a local garbage dump which could potentially endow him with $280 million.

    Howells, 35, told CNBC that the long lost storage device contains the cryptographic “private key” which serves as the only way to unlock the 7,500 bitcoins he had. The man says he threw the hard drive in the trash in 2013 after confusing it with another similar-looking one and since then has been making requests to Newport City Council to search the landfill in attempt to regain the code.

    However the authorities have remained adamant so far, citing environmental and financial hurdles the search could put them through, without guaranteeing that the poor fellow will actually discover his lost treasure.

    But Howells, who lives in Newport, is not ready to capitulate. He believes the information from the hard drive is still retrievable as the glass platter inside could be intact even if the device’s exterior is damaged.

    “Data recovery experts could then rebuild the drive or read the data directly from the platter,” Howells believes.

    With bitcoin's price reaching nearly $42,000 last week before losing several thousand days later, Howells made a new lucrative offer to the local council to get permission to search the dump without breaking the law.  

    The IT specialist said that he would donate 25% of the money (nearly $70 million, based on bitcoin’s recent price) he is able to retrieve with the find to the city’s “Covid Relief Fund”. He also promised to fund his excavation bid with finances from some hedge fund, but the officials have remained reluctant to approve his hunt for the lost bitcoins.

    “As far as I am aware they have already rejected the offer,” Howells told CNBC. “Without even having heard our plan of action or without being given a chance to present our mitigations to their concerns regarding the environment, it’s just a straight up ‘no’ every time.”

    ​Newport City Council confirmed to CNBC that Howells had contacted the officials on “a number of times since 2013 about the possibility of retrieving a piece of IT hardware said to contain bitcoins”. The first request was made “several months” after the man lost the hard drive, the council’s spokesperson said.

    But they still believe that the search would entail enormous costs on environment while still being potentially doomed to failure.

    “The council has told Mr Howells on a number of occasions that excavation is not possible under our licencing permit and excavation itself would have a huge environmental impact on the surrounding area,” the spokesperson said.

    “The cost of digging up the landfill, storing and treating the waste could run into millions of pounds — without any guarantee of either finding it or it still being in working order,” the official added.

    The price of the digital currency has soared in the last few months, reaching an all-time high in January before levelling off at around $36,000, according to Saturday readings provided by Coindesk.

    This comes in strike contrast to the slightly more than $6,000 the cryptocurrency cost in the end of March 2020.

    But bitcoin remains a currency not regulated by any central bank or subject to any authorities. They are obtained through a “mining” process or in transactions between users in a peer-to-peer network. Users need a valid ‘private key’ to create a bitcoin address to their digital wallet to be able to spend the cryptocurrency. If the private key is lost, there is no other way to prove your ownership of the worthy coins.

    Tags:
    Wales, digital currency, cryptocurrency, bitcoin, United Kingdom
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