The project, known as Bail Bloc, encourages volunteers to install an app on their computer where a cryptocurrency quietly accumulates using spare processing power.
Bail Bloc co-creator Maya Binyam said it is a project to help tens of thousands of defendants in the US who cannot afford to pay bail.
“It’s important to remember that no one that is in jail on bail has been convicted of anything, so there’s really no reason for these people to be detained,” Ms Binyam said.
“Bail functions primarily as a tool of surveillance and predictive policing. It’s also a tool of coercion.
“In an immediate sense, [bail] can have a very devastating impact. People can lose jobs, custody of children, their immigration status. It also has long-term psychological effects.”
Ms Binyam is also a senior editor at The New Inquiry, an online magazine behind the project.
Bail Bloc allows individuals who have installed the app to mine the cryptocurrency Monero, which can then be converted into US dollars later on.
Ms Binyam said the app that mines the cryptocurrency is unobtrusive and costs volunteers next to nothing to participate.
“Bail Bloc is an application you can install on your desktop, and basically it runs in a task bar in the background,” she said.
“At the end of every month, the Monero that it mines is converted into US dollars and donated to the Bronx Freedom Fund, which is a non-profit charity bill fund in the Bronx.”
Project needs many participants to succeed
Bail Bloc has only just launched and Ms Binyam is so far encouraged with the take-up, but she adds it will only be effective if many people take part.
“So far we have about 450 people who have installed Bail Bloc, and we’ve only been launched for about 36 hours now,” she said.
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“It’s not an efficient fundraising program if only one person is using it. The amount that one person can expect to generate from their own computer is about $3 to $5 per month.
“But the reason why Bail Bloc works is if you have say 5,000 people using the program, then that’s $25,000 per month, which is 25 people bailed out.”
A similar project could potentially work here in Australia, according to Steven Wilson of advisory firm Constellation Research.
“Something like this in-principle could work in Australia, because it’s a community of people that are creating these ones and zeros,” Mr Wilson said.
“But somewhere you need to convert that value back to something that a charity can use but convert to something a charity could use, so you need an exchange.
“The other problem with Australia is one of scale. These cryptocurrency networks only work when you’ve got thousands and thousands of computers harnessed together to provide the governance of the system.”