The British man is making a last-ditch effort to recover lost Bitcoin hard drives


The reflection of bitcoins on a computer hard drive.

Thomas Trutschel | Photo library via Getty Images

LONDON – A Briton who accidentally threw away a hard drive containing a lot of Bitcoin, again tells local city officials to have him look for it in a landfill.

James Howells, a 35-year-old IT engineer from Newport, Wales, said he threw the device away when he cleared his house in 2013. He claims he has two identical laptop hard drives and wrongly needed the one with the cryptographic “private key” to access his bitcoins and spend them in the trash.

After all these years, Howells is still confident that he can get the bitcoin back. Although the outer part of the hard drive could be damaged and rusted, he believes the hard drive inside could still be intact.

“There’s a good chance the disk in the drive is still intact,” he told CNBC. “Data recovery experts could then rebuild the drive or read the data directly from the platter.”

Howells says he has 7,500 bitcoins, which at today’s prices would be worth more than $ 280 million. He says the only way to get it back is by using the hard drive that he threw in the trash eight years ago.

But he needs permission from his local council to search a dump that he believes contains the lost hardware. The landfill is not open to the public and entering it is considered a criminal offense.

Howells has offered to donate 25% of the shipment, valued at around $ 70.8 million, to a Covid Relief Fund for his hometown if he can dig up the hard drive. He has also promised to fund the excavation project with the support of an undisclosed hedge fund.

However, Newport City Council has so far denied its search requests, citing environmental and financial concerns. And it doesn’t seem like local officials will budge anytime soon.

“As far as I know, they have already turned down the offer,” Howells said. “Without even hearing our plan of action or having the opportunity to present our mitigation of their environmental concerns, it’s just a resounding no every time.”

A spokesman for the council told CNBC that he had “been contacted several times since 2013 about the possibility of accessing IT hardware with bitcoins”. The first time “several months” after Howells first discovered the drive was gone.

“The council has told Mr Howells on several occasions that excavations are not possible under our permit and that excavations themselves would have a huge impact on the environment in the area,” said the council spokesman.

“The cost of digging the landfill, storing and treating the waste could run into millions of pounds with no guarantees that it will be found or that it will still work.”

It’s not hard to imagine why Howells would want to save the equipment. Bitcoin prices have skyrocketed in the last few months, hitting an all-time high near $ 42,000 last week before falling sharply.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that a programmer in San Francisco was banned from 7,002 bitcoins – valued at around $ 267.8 million today – for forgetting the password used to unlock a small hard drive with the private one Key to a digital wallet was required.

Bitcoin’s network is decentralized, which means that it is not controlled by a single person but by a computer network. Every transaction comes from a wallet with a “private key”. This is a digital signature and provides mathematical proof that the transaction came from the owner of the wallet.