The Silk Road of Anarchy
Liberty and justice for all: sounds great, right? Dependent upon the context, it should be; however, do we, as American citizens, get to genuinely experience these renowned attributes of our ‘free society’? The creation of the internet, as with any new technological advance, brought about many amazing possibilities, one of which being the dark web. The dark net is generally defined as being a network that is only accessible with the use of specialized software. It is no surprise that anti-government/anti-prohibitionists found a way to ‘safely’ and anonymously barter illegal goods within the vast depths of the deep web – is it not within our every right as American citizens, so long as no one is harmed in the process? The creator of Silk Road, Ross William Ulbricht, could tell you that it is undoubtedly not within our given rights from the country that bleeds red, white, and blue in the name of freedom.
The Silk Road
The Silk Road Marketplace was founded in February of 2011 by Ross William Ulbricht, also known by the now infamous pseudonym – Dread Pirate Roberts – and two other unknown assailants known by the pseudonyms Variety Jones and Smedley. The founders of Silk Road envisaged a safe, online platform somewhere in the realm between Amazon and a black market, where people could buy and sell items that are prohibited in most areas. They used Tor, a software used for anonymity and to access the deep web, and Bitcoins, a cryptocurrency that enables consumers to remain unidentified while making transactions. Many users found the dark net black market to be very beneficial by providing them a platform to buy or sell goods they could otherwise not transfer safely or without persecution. After Silk Road’s seizure and upon being convicted of multiple crimes, Ulbricht revealed that he started the marketplace with intentions of returning more rights back to citizens. “Silk Road was supposed to be about giving people the freedom to make their own choices, to pursue their own happiness”, Ulbricht wrote to a judge upon his sentencing. Despite being an illegally run business, the Silk Road gained many loyal customers who enjoyed their experiences with both the services and products. The marketplace’s goods generally consisted of various types of narcotics in varying amounts, fraudulent forms of identification, erotica, and also some random items that are legal. While the marketplace did promote the transfer and usage of illegal substances or items, they did have a clear moral limit as to what types of things they would prohibit/promote the transference of. Silk Road did not allow or promote the creation or distribution of child pornography or anything typically associated with the exploitation of children in harmful ways. Silk Road also prohibited the sales of stolen identities and credit card information, weapons and despite questionable allegations, they did not allow murder for hire schemes to be encouraged/advertised on their site. Weapons were actually permitted on Silk Road in its’ early days, but to maintain the integrity (in a sense) of Silk Road, weapons sales were allocated to a website called The Armory – ran by the same people – that was short-lived due to lack of steady business.
Taking Down The Silk Road
The Silk Road marketplace first came under public scrutiny when Gawker, an internet based media source, published an article detailing the deep web site’s purpose and how to access it. For about two years, Silk Road was untouchable – no information could be traced to locate the website’s administrative server. While it is still unclear as to how the information about the administrator was finally discovered, the FBI and DEA saw no problem in seizing the site in October of 2013, along with millions of dollars’ worth of Bitcoins, and subsequently charging the presumed administrator, Ross Ulbricht, with various charges in relation to the market. Ulbricht was convicted of perpetuating a criminal enterprise, computer hacking, conspiracy to commit narcotics trafficking, conspiracy to traffic fraudulent identity documents, and money laundering; he was given a life sentence with no chance of parole which he is currently serving at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York. Several others were convicted of various narcotics related crimes associated with Silk Road as well.
Anarchy, Internet, and Freedom
The underlying theme of the entire Silk Road situation is the continuous struggle between liberal anarchists and conservative capitalists. Ulbricht and his team felt that consenting adults should have the choice to consume or participate in what they please, and wanted to implement an easy, user-friendly and safe venue for people to meet their non-traditional, and socially taboo, needs. Unfortunately, the federal governments of various countries disagree; due to the obvious sanctions imposed upon various substances, documents, and objects, Silk Road acting as a medium for the transference of said items is clearly illegal.
Ulbricht’s creation of Silk Road was not solely arranged to create a source of income or to help people, it was also a declaration of autonomy. Despite the many attempts to hinder the Silk Road marketplace, it has been taken over and recreated continuously since Ulbricht’s arrest – sending out the message that people will not stop fighting for the right to make their own decisions. Ulbricht encourages people to stop supporting those who oppress them, “Stop funding the state with your tax dollars and direct your productive energies into the black market”. Only time will tell if people take heed to Ulbricht’s advice and reclaim their ability to make decisions as they see fit. In the meantime, I will personally be watching the progression of the ever-increasing cyber sanctions and the decline in the amount of privacy we are afforded.
The Onion Router
The anonymized network that the Silk Road and The Armory were accessible on is Tor. Tor, also known as the onion router, is a software that directs a user’s request to access a webpage through a series of randomized servers located all over the world. Tor allows you to access websites that are only available on the dark net, prevent various agencies from recording or monitoring internet activity, and it also prevents interactive webpages to trace the location from which their site is being accessed. When using the Tor browser, the data sent with a request is encrypted and the IP address is removed, then the data is sent through a series of relays before reaching the requested page. The relays only decrypt enough data to correctly direct it to the next relay. The many layers of encrypted and decrypted data are metaphorically relevant to the many layers of an onion, hence the name ‘the onion router’.