Is it legal to mine cryptocurrency at work?

Amidst the current hype of cryptocurrency, more and more time is being spent towards ‘mining’ for those cryptocurrencies. However, an issue arises as to whether users can mine for cryptocurrencies at work. Is ‘mining at work’ illegal or is it merely a workplace ethic issue?

What is mining?

‘Mining’ is the process during which a computer solves a complex algorithm in order to complete a ‘block’ for the purposes of verifying a transaction on the blockchain. Crypto coins are then rewarded once the computer has successfully solved the algorithm (i.e. the coin has been ‘mined’).

Despite the reward of crypto coins, mining is notorious for taking a lot of time, CPU power and electricity. Additionally, as more Bitcoins are generated, the network self-regulates, producing fewer coins over time, and making it less likely a solo computer will successfully mine a coin.

Mining at work

Accordingly, one may consider mining crypto coins at work. The rationale behind this thinking is that a firm may have more sophisticated or faster computers than one’s personal home computer. The CPU power and costs of electricity incurred in the mining process would also be borne by the firm. Moreover, the firm’s network may be more secure and less prone to hacking than that of the individual.

Mining crypto coins at work seems to be an attractive proposition but is it legal? This depends if you work in the private or public sector.

Private sector

The short answer is ‘yes’ – there is currently no general law in Australia that prohibits mining crypto coins at work in the private sector.

However, that is not to say mining at work is never illegal. For instance, using the firm’s computers for mining would likely fall within the ‘serious misconduct’ clause of your employment contract which prohibits the misuse of the firm’s resources. Breach of the serious misconduct clause could lead to the termination of your employment and/or you paying damages to your employer. In addition, there may be issues as to whether the firm or you have ownership over the cryptocurrencies acquired in the scope of your employment. You can contact an employment contract review lawyer to help acquaint you on the terms of your employment agreement.

Even if your employment contract does not prohibit mining, there may also be professional or industry rules prohibiting such conduct. Regardless, it is good practice and work ethic that you do not free ride your firm’s resources. Otherwise, your reputation as well as your relations with your employer and colleagues may be strained, undermining your employment.

Public sector

The case is very different for public sector and government workers.

In NSW, the deliberate misuse of ‘public resources’ is a breach of public trust and can constitute corrupt conduct under the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988 (‘the Act’). ‘Public resources’ are those items that are paid for, owned, or controlled by public sector agencies. Resources can be tangible, such as computer equipment or intangible, such as time and electricity. ‘Misuse’ in this context includes using public resources for private work purposes without permission.

Therefore, unless permission is given (which is highly unlikely), mining crypto coins in public office would probably be corrupt conduct under the Act and thus investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (or by an anti-corruption body relevant to your State or Territory).

Similarly, at a federal level, mining crypto coins at work would probably constitute as ‘corruption by an Australian Government employee’ and thus subject to investigation by the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

Indeed, there have been instances where public employees were caught for mining at work. Recently, two Bureau of Meteorology employees were being investigated by AFP for allegedly using the bureau’s powerful computers for mining. Another example was in 2011 when an ABC IT worker was exposed for mining bitcoins on ABC’s internal systems.

The future

Since late 2017, the Australian government has been planning to strengthen Australia’s anti-money laundering laws and regulate cryptocurrencies in the wake of a financial scandal involving Australia’s biggest bank, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Such a plan could involve bringing cryptocurrency transactions within the remit of Austrac (Australia’s financial crime fighting agency) and expanding AFP powers to deal with money laundering and financing of terrorism via cryptocurrency.

If so, such a reform could finally prohibit or restrict mining at work in the private sector too.

Conclusion

As to the private sector, one must consider contract, industry and ethical issues when choosing to mine for cryptocurrencies at work. Meanwhile, there is zero tolerance of mining in the public sector in which every employee is responsible for the effective, efficient and fair use of public resources. So it’s best to leave your mining business at home, not at work!

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