The Streets Are Less Safe Without Online Drug Markets

Journalist:
November 7, 2014

The Washington Post has an article, written by Christopher Ingraham, which represents the voice of reason and sanity among the many commentaries written after yesterday’s announcement that Silk Road 2.0 has been shut down by the FBI, and its operator arrested.

Titled “How the FBI just made the world a more dangerous place by shutting down Silkroad 2.0 and a bunch of online drug markets,” Ingraham’s article states the obvious:

“[T]here’s a strong argument to be made that the darknet economy makes the world a safer place overall. By taking drug transactions off the street and putting them online, you eliminate a significant link in the chain of violence between drug suppliers and end users. Drugs purchased online are typically less adulterated with dangerous contaminants than street drugs are, and a system of reviews rewards sellers who provide high-quality product. [R]egardless of how many of these sites the FBI has seized today, it’s a near certainty that dozens more will spring up to take their place tomorrow.”

Crackdowns Don’t Eliminate Online Drug Markets But Push Them Deeper Underground

CCN has published several recent articles to show how online drug markets reduce drug-related violence in the street, and user review eliminates dishonest dealers and adulterated products. We have also shown how crackdowns and seizures don’t eliminate online drug markets, but only push them deeper underground under the control of real, much less principled criminals.

Blake Benthall is no criminal – he sounds like a naive Libertarian idealist who believes, like most sensible persons, that “victimless crimes” shouldn’t be punished and recreational drugs should be available to those who want to use them. Many posts in the discussion on bitcointalk emphasize that Benthall was found because he essentially handed himself over by failing to take basic security precautions and making with a lot of naive mistakes, which no real criminal hardened by street life would ever make.

It should be obvious that if enough people want to buy something, there will be providers. The only choice to make is whether to protect the people involved from actual harm or expose them to harm.

It’s easy to predict what happens now:

In the short term, the authorities will shut down a couple more crypto markets and arrest a few more people. Of course, new crypto markets will replace the closed ones in no time. It seems likely that the new markets will be run not by idealists, but by real criminals who know how to run watertight operations, and sell not only drugs but all sorts of really dangerous things. Is that what “our” authorities really want?

In the longer term, online crypto markets will migrate to new decentralized technology platforms, without central servers and single point failures that can be shut down. The authorities won’t be able to take down the server because there is no server. Of course, they will still be able to find and arrest individual users who don’t protect themselves with good security, but that won’t amount to much.

What do you think of the recent FBI operations against online drug markets? Comment below!

Images from Shutterstock.

Giulio Prisco @giulioprisco

Science writer, software developer, Bitcoin/crypto enthusiast.