In recent months, a great deal of media attention has been focused on the so-called “Dark Web,” a section of the Internet that is completely anonymous and untraceable. Though the dark web has many legitimate uses, such as journalism, many are using the technology to conceal illegal content and trade. This illegal trade is helped along by websites such as the “Silk Road,” which until recently was viewed as a gateway for those peddling drugs or illegal services.
The federal government has had a great deal of difficulty in identifying and shutting down such web users. Recently, however, federal agents tracked down one 32-year-old man who had allegedly been using the dark web to sell heroin and methylone to users across the United States. The man, a Maryland resident, was arrested and formally charged last month. Authorities say he used the screen name “digitalink” to sell drugs between November of 2011 and January of 2012. It is not clear exactly how many drugs the man is alleged to have sold.
This indictment comes shortly after the news that another, much higher-profile dark web user was arrested on drug charges, among other things. The California man, who allegedly operated under the screen name “Dread Pirate Roberts,” was allegedly the kingpin of the Silk Road website, which authorities say was responsible for over $1 billion of drug trading activity.
The Internet is a relatively new phenomenon, and it is being used in new and different ways every day. Our drug sentencing laws will need to evolve to match them. In this case, for example, prosecutors will need to determine what level of culpability these men have for their online activity. Based on the information, it does not appear that the Dread Pirate Roberts personally sold or used drugs; if not, will he be found responsible for creating a website that others use to sell drugs? What level of liability will he bear for that activity? Those involved with the case will have to work very carefully, as the charges for drug trafficking are very serious, and come with serious consequences.
The Baltimore Sun, “Maryland man charged in Silk Road drug marketplace case” Justin Fenton, Oct. 28, 2013