April 1, 2015 9:09 AM UTC

Federal Government Subpoenas Reddit for DarknetMarket User Info

Following the Evolution exit scam, a Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (DHS/ICE) agent has sent an administrative subpoena to Reddit demanding information on five regular users of /r/darknetmarkets. The users whose information is being sequestered are:

  • Z-L

Gwern Branwen Part of the Investigation

One of these users, Gwern, is actually the writer and researcher Gwern Branwen, a well-known asset to the darknet market scene who was instrumental in the identifying of Thomas Jiřikovský and Eva Bartošová, the Czech citizens who authorities now believe were the operators of the Sheep Marketplace. As you know, the Sheep Marketplace operators pulled an exit scam to the tune of several million dollars and were caught trying to purchase a luxury home in the Czech Republic. While no arrest has been announced, the assets were seized, and an investigation is pending.

In a post to the subreddit, Gwern told users that he wasn’t worried much about getting into trouble, as he hasn’t participated directly in the drug markets in quite some time. He is worried that the government will find a way to charge him since he does not have a lot of money for good legal representation. He was asking for donations, and presumably some of the deep-pocketed vendors from the darknet markets might help him out since he has consistently been a legitimate voice and helpful investigator into matters relevant to their livelihoods. (Those interested in helping Gwern Branwen may donate here.)

From his post:

My personal vulnerability is relatively low: I am well-aware that as a semi-public figure writing about the black-markets I am doxable, especially by LE, and for that and many other reasons, I have never been a seller, market operator, or market employee, and I have never accepted payment from any of the above; in addition, I have not purchased from any markets for quite some time now (because it would interfere with my self-experiments, true, but nevertheless). However, it is impossible to not violate laws in the USA and I cannot really afford a good legal defense, so I am still worried.



Another user is apparently an Australian, as NSW is common shorthand for “New South Whales.” NSWGreat was an Evolution vendor and later became a staff member with mostly public relations responsibilities. The Reddit account will not likely yield the Feds much to go on, even an IP address is unlikely when Reddit turns over the information.

But Reddit can, under its terms and conditions, comply with such requests (of course). And, for all purposes, no one can expect much else of them. To expect a private company to protect user privacy at the risk of going out of business is probably unreasonable. There have only been a few cases where companies have done that, notably Lavabit, which refused to turn over its encryption keys to the FBI in regards to Edward Snowden and instead went out of business.


The other three involved in this investigation, according to Mr. Branwen, are in fact trolls of the subreddit who were making grandiose claims with no basis. He says:

Given the date and the affected accounts, it doesn’t take Holmes to deduce the reason for this subpoena: the ICE agent is interested in the trolls z-l and Deepthroat, and also thinks that they may be able to get IPs for NSWGreat (just one naked connection revealing his home IP would be enough and if he’s like past market employees, a raid will turn up all the damning evidence one could hope for). This is a bit hilarious because z-l and Deepthroat never produced anything but drama: nothing but a lot of big talk, threats, and a chat conversation of dubious authenticity, which nevertheless got eaten up by this subreddit’s readers and other subreddits and got some media attention.

Time will tell if this investigative route actually yields anything, but it is unlikely, as the vast majority of the subreddit’s users are on Tor all the time and are very cautious about their privacy, whether they’re engaging in illegal activity or not. It is unlikely, that is, that Reddit has the data that DHS needs to make any headway in any potential investigation of Evolution.

Images from Shutterstock.

P. H. Madore @bitillionaire

P. H. Madore has written for CCN since 2014. Please send breaking news tips or requests for investigation to He lives in Maine, USA. A single father of four young children, he does not discourage financial donations, provided they do not come with strings attached.