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The Australian Border Force Assigns Investigators to the Darknet

Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:56 PM
Justin OConnell
Last Updated March 4, 2021 4:56 PM

The Australian Border Force has created a team of intelligence analysts for the “dark net”, an encrypted part of the internet known for trade in drugs, as well as guns, child pornography and even extremist activity. Australia has emerged as a global leader in darknet commerce, according to recent surveys and law enforcement. To be sure, the dark net is also used for people persecuted by government and others who have a reasonable need for privacy.

The team of dark net analysts will scourge dark net for clues to uncover large-scale dark net vendors, who accept cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Monero to disguise their operations. The investigators will target those operating out of Australia and sending illegal goods into the country.

The team of four intelligence analysts are a response to the growing dark net as a legitimate place for people to source illicit goods and services for Australians. A 2016 Global Drug Survey found that 9.3 per cent of respondents in Australia said they had bought illicit drugs online. Most of the dealings seem to be in cannabis, pharmaceuticals, MDMA and cocaine.

In June 2016 ABC reported The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at the University of New South Wales found prescription painkillers comprise 70 per cent of accidental opioid deaths, with the other 30 percent credited to heroin.

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission does not know how much dark net illicit commerce goes on. In a statement, the agency said it was aware of “a number of websites” making the sale of drugs possible on the dark net.

James Martin, a criminologist at Macquarie University, conjectures that about 150 dark-net operators are based in Australia, reports The Australian . Many more are off shore, he says.

‘’What’s the bang for your buck?’’ Dr Martin said. ‘’With dark-net dealers, you’re investing huge amounts of money in cyber investigation and in the end you’re getting small-time drug dealers. It’s not that they can’t do it, it’s about how much money do you want to spend to track (them down)?’’

An online researcher, who works under the pseudonym “gwern.net” claims 23 arrests have been made in Australia related to dark-net activities, including drug-related and at least one instance where an individual tried to import a gun.

Authorities have seen an increase in opioid drugs through the dark net, according to reports. Prescription drugs like Fentanyl are resulting in overdoses and deaths in Australia. Australian Border Forces have begun targeting imports containing the forbidden drug in Australia, who suspect opioids could be entering Australia via the dark net.

BF chief Roman Quaedvlieg told  News Corp Australia the dark net is not invisible to authorities. “We have significant intelligence holdings related to dark net sites and people should not underestimate the ability of Australian and international authorities to track and detect imports purchased via these websites,” he said.  

Australian Border Force’s international mail command’s Superintendent Phillip Anderson law enforcement is improving its border security in regards to the dark net: ‘It’s fair to say detection’s are now regular sometimes even three a day.’

The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission’s chief executive, Chris Dawson, stated: “Anyone thinking of engaging in illegal activity through these websites should have no confidence they are unable to be traced.

Australia has been long considering how to properly regulate the digital currency, Bitcoin, underpinning many dark net transactions.

Featured image from Shutterstock.