Today another illicit deep-web marketplace was shut down, this time by Dutch authorities. Five men were arrested in connection with the Utopia drug marketplace, and 900 bitcoins seized from their homes. Dutch prosecutors claim two of the arrested were also involved in the “Black Market Reloaded” illicit marketplace that went offline late last year. Utopia had only been online for nine days, but already had over 13,000 listings including guns, drugs, and murder-for-hire. The dutch announcement of the seizure brags, “Nobody is untouchable – this mission is a clear message to anyone who thinks they may commit crime with digital anonymity.”
“Commodore,” the code-name for the undercover investigation, had officers purchasing thousands of ecstasy pills, raw MDMA, and cocaine. Additionally, one of the undercover officers had been approached to conduct a murder-for-hire, and met the customer in person to receive a deposit for the hit. How exactly these transactions led to the closing of the entire website is still unknown, but authorities eventually discovered the site’s servers in Germany (Bochum and Dusseldorf), and left their calling card on the homepage to warn other criminals.
“Nobody is Untouchable”
The warning from Dutch authorities seems a little naive while at least two dozen illegal markets remain online within the deep-web, but the spirit of the words is not false. As long as millions of “anonymous” customers can purchase illegal substances, so too can undercover agents. Bitcoin, of course, is far less anonymous than popular media decried it, and marketplaces multiply like heads of a hydra. What appears to be unfolding in the deep-web is the same old cat-and-mouse game played out in the streets. Common users and small-time players are busted and rolled until finally the police capture the king, only to watch two more move up. To those seeking freedom from what they see as oppressive governments, Utopia is just another failed promise aborted by reality. The same technology that the infamous “Dread Pirate Roberts” claimed would set us free, has only provided another platform for authorities to chase across.