illegal tradeThe Dutch Openbaar Ministerie, their Public Prosecution Service, has leaked a document to regarding plans for Project: ITOM (Illegal Trade on Online Marketplaces). The Dutch OM will be working in conjunction with government agencies from around the world, but mostly Europe, to hinder the development of the deep web’s online marketplaces, which happen to also sell drugs among other government-approved things.

As many people know, a large amount of drug trafficking flows from the Netherlands through the “new Silk Road” to the rest of the world. A previous article by Volkskrant claimed that the proceeds generated by Dutch illegal traders on online marketplaces has come to rival that of legal coffee shops. The leaked document proposed a group effort to combat illegal online trade on three fronts: prosecution, shipping, and Bitcoin.

The first point elaborated by the leaked document revealed the Dutch OM’s intention to discourage and deter the use of illegal online markets through the use of the “criminal court.” Through international cooperation, the groups hope to unmask several Deep Web dealers and prosecute them in open court in an admitted attempt to “scare” would-be perpetrators. Though the proper use of encryption communication technology still serves to deter prying eyes, many dealers are lazy in their operational security protocols and do not take advantage of available open source technologies. Additionally, the agencies will work to crack down on shipments of drugs around and out of Europe. Most damning of all, is the stated intention to look into people that use Bitcoin for the express reason that “the main use of the currency is buying illicit goods.” Project ITOM will result in regulations that make it easier for the government to track bitcoins and to identify their owner. This is the beginning of a European BitLicense.

Previous Coordinated Government Action Against Illegal Online Marketplaces

Last year, the United States (with the help of other countries) was able to shut down Silk Road 1.0, the first Deep Web service to truly launch “illegal trade on online marketplaces” to the mainstream. However, just months after the takedown of the infamous Dread Pirate Roberts, allegedly unmasked as Ross Ulbricht, Silk Road 2.0 was online and running. Despite a large hack, Silk Road 2.0 is still running strong and has even outstripped its predecessor. Besides Silk Road 2.0, there are many other Deep Web marketplaces that offer the same services or cater to niche corners of the online marketplace. The world’s appetite for free trade is understandably large. As with all good things, participants knew that coordinated government action would eventually come to pass.

Which Agencies Are Involved with ITOM?

Along with the Dutch OM, almost every other Dutch law enforcement agency is involved in this operation. They will be working with Europol and Eurojust along with the FBI and ICE from the United States. Elsewhere in Europe, the UK’s NCA will participate along with agencies representing Germany, Portugal, and Sweden. The entire operation is being funded by the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union. In combination with the border and custom inspection forces of a litany of European countries, Project ITOM is poised to make a significant impact on these online marketplaces. As revealed in a different document dated from 2013, Project ITOM has been planned for a long time. By next year, Project ITOM will have taken “intervention” steps… The community anxiously waits to see what they will be.


What Kind of Impact, Though?

In the PSA about Project ITOM posted to the DarkNetMarkets subreddit, user ITOM-Warning reminded users:

I hope this serves as a warning. We should have seen this coming, and we should also see what is coming in the next few months to years. Having good OPSEC, not leaving any traces and taking this more serious should be incredibly important to all of us, especially those in Europe.

One potential impact of Project ITOM, should it be successful in taking down some Deep Web marketplaces, is the increased use of decentralized marketplaces. Decentralized marketplaces, such as OpenBazaar, live in a land of no jurisdiction so none of the trade that takes place there could be branded as illegal, though the worlds’ governments would disagree.

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