Three years ago, New York Senator Chuck Schumer held a press conference to pressure federal law enforcement to crack down on Silk Road, the anonymous online drug market that had only just come to light. The crack down took eventually place in October 2013, and it’s evident that it didn’t do much good.
Only a month after the Silk Road 1.0 bust, a new Silk Road 2.0 launched to replace the original site. Now there are around 30 copycat marketplaces, including Hydra, Pandora, Outlaw Market, Agora, 1776 Market Place, and Evolution, and most of them are doing a decent trade. Agora, now offers more total product listings than Silk Road 2.0, and Evolution is on track to outpace Silk Road 2.0 in total listings in the coming months.
Now the Senator is calling for the Department of Justice to do a full review of how it is combating these online drug bazaars and whether this work should be better prioritized. He says:
“[T]he Silk Road was shut down by the [FBI] in 2013, and I am pleased that DOJ is currently prosecuting its operator and holding him accountable. Regrettably, however, new sites have recently sprung up in Silk Road’s place.”
“[B]oth the number of encrypted “dark web” websites that sell illegal drugs, and the number of drug listings of heroin, cocaine and meth on those sites have doubled to over 40,000 since 2013.”
It Is Evident That Wars on Drugs Don’t Work
It should be evident that cracking down on cryptomarkets doesn’t work, just like the “War on Drugs” in the streets doesn’t work. If enough people want something, there will be providers. If the authorities shut down one or a few providers, many new providers will replace them, often with less ethical qualms. Both Agora and Evolution offer other illicit products that the Silk Road didn’t permit, including firearms. Evolution also sells stolen credit card information, a sort of fencing that wouldn’t have been allowed under Silk Road’s strict adherence to supporting only victimless crime.
According to Senator Schumer, the number of encrypted “dark web” websites that sell illegal drugs, and the number of drug listings of heroin, cocaine and meth on those sites have doubled since 2013. Federal law enforcement officials need more resources targeted at the problem in order to investigate and target these sales, which have only increased since the original site, Silk Road, was shut down. Schumer acknowledged that targeting these sales on the “dark web” is complicated due to complex encryption software that is used to prevent law enforcement from being able to see who a user is, and where they are accessing these drug marketplaces from. He said:
“With illegal online drug sales on the rise, we need our federal law enforcement officials to do a top to bottom investigation of how these online drug marketplaces continue to thrive, and whether we must better prioritize combating these sales. These websites, by allowing users to rate the delivery services of sellers and by offering any drugs imaginable under the sun, are nothing less than an all-you-can order buffet of contraband that need to be investigated and targeted with more intensity.”
Rating features and the associated reputation systems are indeed the most interesting features of cryptomarkets.
A recent study by researchers at the University of Manchester and the University of Montreal concluded that (the old) Silk Road prevented violence associated with the illegal drug trade. The study concluded that the Silk Road -like markets, based on computer literacy and reputation, are likely to be relatively free from the violence typically associated with traditional drug markets. It is, or it should be, just a matter of common sense to conclude that cryptomarkets can do much more good than harm. Reducing violence and physical damage to people should be considered as much more important than trying to punish victimless crimes.
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Images from Silk Road and Shutterstock.