Facebook Twitter

The reason not to throw away old hard drives might be surprising — there could be bitcoin on there

James Howells from Newport, Wales, threw away a hard drive that contained a ‘private key’ needed to access and spend his 7,500 bitcoins, now worth hundreds of millions

SHARE The reason not to throw away old hard drives might be surprising — there could be bitcoin on there
An advertisement of Bitcoin, one of the cryptocurrencies, is displayed on a building in Hong Kong, on Nov. 18, 2021.

An advertisement of Bitcoin, one of the cryptocurrencies, is displayed on a building in Hong Kong, on Nov. 18, 2021. James Howells, a 35-year-old information technology engineer from Newport, Wales, said he had two identical laptop hard drives, but one of them contained a “private key” needed to access and spend his bitcoin, which he accidentally threw away, according to CNBC.

Kin Cheung, Associated Press

If James Howells didn’t throw away his hard drive eight years ago, he would have been as rich, if not richer, than the Queen of England.

Howells, a 35-year-old information technology engineer from Newport, Wales, said he had two identical laptop hard drives, but one of them contained a “private key” needed to access and spend his bitcoins, which he accidentally threw away, according to CNBC.

  • But Howells still hopes to find it in a landfill, though he knows the hard drive may be damaged and rusted
  • “There is a good chance the platter inside the drive is still intact,” he said per the report. “Data recovery experts could then rebuild the drive or read the data directly from the platter.”
  • Howells claims the drive had 7,500 bitcoins, worth more than $280 million today.

To retrieve it, he needs permission from his local council to search the landfill, which is not open to the public.

  • To sweeten the deal, he offered to donate 25% of the money — worth $70.8 million — to a “COVID Relief Fund” for the city. He also promised to fund the entire excavation project, backed by an unnamed hedge fund.
  • “As far as I am aware they have already rejected the offer,” Howells said, per the report. “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.”
  • “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,” said a council spokesperson.

There are plenty of tragic tales about people forgetting passwords or losing computers. Others regret selling their coins too soon. Per Coindesk, a hypnotist in South Carolina even offers services that are meant to help people recall their forgotten private key passwords.

Per the report, that is how Bitcoin works. It is a monetary system that is hard to hack, censor or dismantle. This is why Howells can’t access his coins any other way.