Science & Technology

You Can't Stop the Dark Net (Yet Everyone Keeps Trying)

Dark net drug sales have more than doubled since the FBI shut down Silk Road.



BBC News has been trawling the dark net and discovering that drug offerings on the semi-hidden web network have more than doubled since last fall. That's when the FBI closed down Silk Road, the original crypto bizaar, from which dark netizens could purchase drugs and other illicit items exclusively using Bitcoin. 

In October 2013, the Digital Citizens Alliance counted 18,174 deep web drug listings that spanned four main markets. The BBC News team now uncovered some 43,175 listings across 23 markets.

It seems when the FBI closed down Silk Road, all it managed to do was splinter the deep web's drug market while advertising to more people that it existed in the first place. 

BBC News quotes the requisite people saying this is a "big problem", and not only because DRUGS. One dude worries about the collateral damage that comes from people quietly conducting business on a network there's literally no way to accidently access.

"We still think the internet can be a wonderful tool for consumers and businesses, but we do worry good people and companies get caught up in the web spun by criminals and rogue operators," said Adam Benson, deputy executive director of Digital Citizens Alliance. 

"That will slowly erode the trust and confidence we have in the internet."

A representative of Britain's National Crime Agency said it was using "all and every tool and technique" possible to go after dark net drug sellers, because they are not just dealing drugs but "dealing in misery." But an anonymous dark-net drug seller offered another perspective: 

"To us the dark net is all about anonymity and freedom," he said.

I put it to him that he was still selling dangerous substances and supporting organised crime.

"A street dealer could sell you anything without you knowing what it is exactly," he replied. "Because of the strong community on the dark net, this almost never happens. And when it happens, the vendor in question will lose all of his clients."

He added that the online drugs trade showed no signs of reducing. "I've seen the dark net market grow almost exponentially."

It will continue to grow, because—like Uber, and AirBnB, and—it makes things both more convenient and more transparent for consumers. And similar to the way websites allow sex workers to go indie and avoid pimps and brothels, the dark web lets small-scale drug purveyors thrive without being part of some organized criminal network. That also gives consumers less need to buy from seedier elements.

So the dark net could actually help reduce drug-related crime, in addition to making drug use safer. But prohibition for its own sake is a hell of a drug for lawmakers and enforcers in the U.S. and U.K.