Surveillance, Virtual Financial Crimes, Digital Currencies and Privacy

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This week we will be shifting gears from human trafficking, which crime was virtualized with the help of backpage and begin to discuss the dark web which intersects with and augments much of what we have been discussing over the last couple months. Because a personal matter took me out of school for over a week and I fell behind in my classes, I was unable to enjoy the myriad fun activities around me this weekend. I was so focused on getting caught up in my classes that yesterday I asked my fiancée if I could put out a basket of candy with a sign instead of passing it out while she attended the party I couldn’t make. She approved of this sign which she located for me on pinterest:

Halloween Sign

Little did I know I was beginning a sociology experiment.

We recently installed new security cameras on our property and they come with a handy app for your smartphone, so you can check on your property at any time. We can even hear in real time. Since our camera is right next to the candy basket (but unfortunately too close to see into the basket), I decided to stream the security system on my phone as I continued to draft this blog just 1 flight of stairs above the camera and candy basket. I figured if I kept an eye and ear on the camera it would give me a chance to grab my lawfully acquired assault weapon in case it looked like a ghoul or goblin was going to take over my property. And enjoy the Halloween costumes. I feel like it turned into an episode of “What Would You Do” except I was John Quinones and I never got to catch up with any of the unknowing participants.

I didn’t connect the dots when some teenage boys showed up as some poorly done skeletons and I heard “One. One. One. One. One. One.” but even more times in rapid succession – apparently their interpretation of the sign, as I would learn. I thought it was strange they hovered over the basket for so long. They were oblivious to the camera. The next group of kids helped me out though and let me know it was time to refill the basket when a kid that reminded me of this YouTube personality announced, “Someone dumped your candy basket! I see that camera! Don’t let anybody take advantage of you!” I wish I could have made it down in time to thank him, but I refilled the basket for a second take at this experiment that I was now weirdly invested in. His insight is fortuitous with respect to this blog post.

It was around the height of the trick-or-treating and there was a steady flow of trick or treaters that seemed to really mind the sign, even though the vast majority were oblivious to the camera. The rare exceptions gave me something to chuckle about when one princess said to her partner in crime, “There’s a security camera,” seeming to offer up a friendly reminder just in case the sign wasn’t clear enough. The other girl nervously replied, “I know. That’s why I’m really nervous I took two.” No worries little girl, as long as you don’t dump and run like those foolish skeletons then you saved me a trip downstairs. Eventually the basket ran out again after I heard a parent console their kid that it wasn’t a big deal the basket was empty. I was almost disappointed at how quickly my third and final basket refill went. The traffic died down and there were fewer groups coming by. Soon a Darth Vader or some sort of sci-fi looking creature showed up and looked like he had spent more time on his costume and face paint than a bride getting ready on her wedding day. What appeared to be his young kid (around 4 or five) was waiting for him on the end of the driveway. I was shocked to hear the next group say that there was no candy left. I couldn’t believe the father did something like that in front of or for/on behalf of his kid.

Anyway, I didn’t want to open up my blog with a boring story but I do think the anecdote invites us to start thinking about what level of intrusion into our lives is appropriate and by whom?   Does the government have a compelling interest in surveilling our financial transactions? Should they have a blanket right? What about the companies we do business with? Our insurers? Our employers? Does or should our federal/state constitution protect us? What about privacy in our transactions over the Internet? We are all so individual and our actions, even based on a simple halloween sign, vary wildly.   The overarching theme to me was that while surveillance seemed to make one more cautious, in the end, one will accomplish whatever he sets out to do, be it engage in human trafficking, exploiting children, or driving to chick-fil-a for an ice dream. But I digress…

The dark web is often misconstrued as dominating the deep web, which is that portion of the web that can’t be crawled by Google.   It represents sites that require authentication or passwords to access like our bank accounts and email. This is the overwhelming majority of the deep web. The more nefarious activities that occur on the dark web are different. The dark web is accessed anonymously over what is known as a Tor network, and represents less than .01% of the web!

Further, the dark web isn’t all bad per se. Wikileaks is one such example of the less-dark web. Besides being accessed anonymously, services can also choose to be hosted anonymously on the Tor network. These onion services can only be accessed by using a tor browser. The browser makes anonymous a users browsing and, for those services that are hosted on the tor network, makes anonymous the service.

But just how far does the dark web reach? Not very far, at least since last November, 2014,  when Operation Onymous represented yet another huge takedown of services hosted on the Tor network, or onion sites.

The multinational operation, mainly between the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Cybercrime Division as well as the European Union’s Europol (E3) Cybercrime Division, shut down 400 tor-hosted services that resulted in the seizure of over $1MM worth of bitcoin, the anonymous digital currency that is believed to facilitate much of the dark web, and its newer off-shoots like Litecoin and Dogecoin.

Bitcoin is largely believed to be what put Silk Road on the map, before its leader, known as Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested after years of government surveillance.  Drew is going to talk more about the SilkRoad case next week, but for an introduction, Dread Pirate Roberts later became identified as Ross Ulbricht. Ulbricht had some unique ideas about economic theory that culminated from his post-graduate studies. I found this article particularly interesting in explaining Ulbricht’s theory that Ulbricht wished to address the systemic use of threat and force and that prohibition was a root cause of the physical harms that are associated with crimes related to human trafficking, child pornography, and drugs. This coalesces with the NYU law study I have referenced in my comments the preceding two weeks which hypothesizes that addressing coercion and force that leads to so many victims moreso than the underlying crime the victims are participating in does a better job, as a matter of policy, in reducing the coercion and force.

Speaking boldly about his disbelief in prohibition, Ulbricht stated about his creation, “It makes drug buying and selling so smooth that it’s easy to forget what kinds of violent fuckers drug dealers can be. That’s the whole point of Silk Road. It totally takes evil pieces of shit out of the drug equation. Whether they’re vicious drug dealers or bloodthirsty narcotics cops, both sides of that coin suck and end pretty much the same way. Death, despair, madness, prison, etc. Thanks to decentralization and powerful encryption, we’re able to operate in a digital world that is almost free from prohibition and the violence it causes.”

So although it appears the dark web is often criticized as being a breeding ground for weapons, child pornography, and stolen credit card numbers, it seems that Ulbricht’s brainchild was meant to facilitate non-violent drug transaction between an anonymous willing seller and an anonymous willing buyer. I wonder to what extent the result for Ulbricht may have been different if the myriad seemingly less innocuous inventory never became part of silk road?

Like the many world empires that have risen and fallen just like Silk Road, so too have the successors to the dubious marketplaces. After Operation Onymous, which took down Silk Road 2.0 and DPR’s “defcon,” there were few left standing, but as time progressed, the market has seemed to come to a screeching halt. One of the few remaining tor-hosted services was the “Evolution Market,” but it vanished in an exit scam just months before Ulbricht received his life sentence. Over $12MM vanished overnight. The market that was poised to succeed Evolution Market was Agora. But as recently as August, even Agora voluntarily “suspended operations.”  It appears a study released in July exposed a vulnerability in the Tor network that, in theory, could have allowed the government to deanonymize Tor traffic. Apparently fearing some sort of Operation Onymous 2.0, Agora took itself offline before anyone else could. Some speculate that the federal government did not conduct some sort of mass deanonymization effort, but instead just continued to use good old fashioned police detective work.

Irrespective of the means, one thing is for sure: it appears that the dark web has fallen on the darkest of times in recent memory as activity seems to be at an all time low. But, asides from the old fashioned detective work and perhaps some vulnerabilities in the Tor system, what does the federal government have in its arsenal to address these types of virtual crimes?

The Bank Secrecy Act. The Bank Secrecy Act of 2000 (31 USC Sec. 5311-5330) reduces a citizen’s right to privacy concerning banking information. Financial institutions are required by the federal government to monitor customers, maintain records, and report personal financial transactions that “have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax, and regulatory investigations and proceedings.” 12 USC Sec. 1951. Suspicious Activity Reports must be filed with Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, commonly known as FINCEN. 31 USC 5318(g)(1).

Financial institutions report these things secretly, without the consent or knowledge of its customers. The Reports are available electronically to every United States Prosecuting Attorney, over 59 law enforcement agencies including the FBI and Secret Service. The regulations make clear that these agencies need not suspect an actual crime before accessing a report, nor is a warrant or subpoena necessary.

It is clear then that the government has deputized banks to be its eyes and ears in the financial markets. Our policies ensure that our markets are centralized and all of our transactions go through the banking system. It is easy to see the threat imposed by the advent of Bitcoin et al. They are decentralized and are not transacted through financial institutions, but rather the internet.

Was the government more worried about the underlying transactions on the dark web or more about the fact that the cryptocurrencies made it difficult for them to be in the know? I believe it was the latter, and I think that is was led to FINCEN guidance in 2013 which were regulations designed to apply the Bank Secrecy Act implementing regulations to those using virtual currencies.

It appears the regulations were directed at Mt. Gox which at the time handled 70% of the bitcoin exchanges each day. In the months following the regulations, Mt. Gox’s market share actually ballooned to 90% until the Department of Homeland security swooped in with charges of violating the FINCEN regulations requiring it to register as a money-transmitter. It obtained the required license just shortly before effectively shutting down by halting United States Dollar withdrawals. The official demise came months later when it officially shut down and filed for bankruptcy after being “unable to recover from a significant bitcoin theft” that was equal to 6% of Bictoin in circulation at the time. Call me crazy, and Mt. Gox can call it theft, but it sounds like the kind of illiquidity than only a government or large market maker can effect, if the treasury markets are any indication.

Around the same time FINCEN stepped up efforts to slow the progress of virtual decentralized currencies, the US enacted FATCA which is known as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. It created mandatory reporting requirements of foreign institutions of US account holders. It also required individuals to disclose foreign assets on tax forms, irrespective of whether or not there was income associated with the asset. Seen as a scourge by many with dual citizenship, Americans forever renouncing their citizenship have been on the rise, many because of the onerous requirements under FATCA.

So fellow classmates, what do you think this is all about? Is the government sincerely interested in shutting down the teeny-tiny dark web that is, no pun intended, seemingly on its last leg? Is it part of the United State’s war on drugs? Is it about the US wanting to have unlimited amounts of information about its citizens and their financial activity? Certainly the events of September 11, 2001 and terrorism subsequent to then give the government a very compelling interest in preventing and detecting terrorism, (and protecting against its financing and money-laundering related to terrorism) but just how much privacy must we give up in the interest of security? In Florida there is Constitutional right to privacy written into our constitution. Fla. Const. art. I, Sec. 23. The right has been held to be fundamental and thus requires a compelling state interest to use the least intrusive means to further the interest. Knowing this, States can provide leadership in the privacy arena because of the Constitutional options available. Would recognition of such a right at the federal level have changed the course of investigation into Silk Road and its successors? Or if California had a similar fundamental right? I don’t think it would have changed the investigation, but I do think it would have given Ulbricht unique constitutional arguments that could have changed the outcome of his sentence.

What about States where federally illegal drugs have been legalized and businesses are still effectively oustered from the banking system. Should they be forced to carry bags of cash? Doesn’t digital currency make more sense for these more vulnerable companies? They can’t seem to operate with or without the government, very much begging for federal attention to address the issue.  The fed hasn’t answered the call though and the only progress that has been made on the fed/state dichotomy issue is the Cole memo, issued in 2013 by the US Dept. of Justice. What more can be done to allow states to serve as the laboratories for democracy?

Ben Franklin wrote “They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Has the United States struck the correct balance between privacy, security, and liberty? I very much look forward to your comments and our discussion on Wednesday.

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~ by amsjd16 on November 2, 2015.

20 Responses to “Surveillance, Virtual Financial Crimes, Digital Currencies and Privacy”

  1. The Albright quote you put struck me as peculiar. He speaks about the Silk Road as if it is some sort of benevolent solution and categorizes the involvement of traditional drug dealing and enforcement as the evils involved in drug transactions, given the death, despair, madness, and imprisonment that follows them. But is that even really a logical argument?

    I don’t think so. What of the death, despair, madness, and potential imprisonment that naturally follow certain kinds of drug use? As I understand it, people don’t use Silk Road to get a hold of Pepto-Bismol. While it would be gross to categorize all drugs that may be purchased, or the illegality of all drugs to be just (i.e. marijuana), I think Silk Road is more often used to get a hold of far more volatile and dangerous drugs. Does the removal of any gang or police relations make it so pure and good by default? To me, what he’s saying sounds more like a ‘pitch’, rather than an honest evaluation. It sounds like

    “No, don’t get high of their stuff (gangs/police/crime/etc), come get a hit of our stuff (Silk Road). We’re so much better, we won’t kill or arrest you. Now here’s your meth.”

    The ideas surrounding privacy that you put forth regarding government financial surveillance is certainly interesting. I found myself naturally responding with a “that’s fine. I don’t have anything financial to worry about”. Which is the exact sort of response I find upsetting when speaking with people about Snowden-released government surveillance. The point is what YOU think you’ve done, the point is what the government thinks you’ve done. Or rather, what the government can show it appears that you’ve done. The only security, is the hope of anonymity. So, I’m certainly sympathetic toward that end.

    Definitely want to hear more about this in the class discussion.

    • I definitely agree with you on the government financial surveillance. Complacency can breed problems when it comes to intrusions in our lives because as you said, we might not think we have anything to be concerned about, but the government can interpret things differently and at that point you are counting on due process. In studying privacy law related to the Patriot Act, the FISA court is amazing. It is this completely anonymous court where FOIA has no standing and all is in the name of national security. My concern is that these agencies have expectations put on them and if there isn’t enough national security issues for law enforcement to work on, how do they keep themselves busy or justify their service? I’m not saying they would do anything nefarious with information obtained but certainly there is a risk that information obtained in the interest of national security could be used in an unconstitutional manner.

      I agree completely and it is undisputed that there were very volatile and dangerous drugs on the marketplace, but how is that different than outside the virtual world? I took Ulbricht’s quote to suggest that he felt that one who was intent on obtaining these dangerous drugs would obtain them one way or the other. In other words, did the shut down of Silk Road really stymie the use of meth? I would hypothesize the meth user just took to the streets and still got their meth they were intent on obtaining, at the risk of much more force and coercion than if they had completed their transaction on silk road.

      We have consistently recognized one’s right to make a poor medical choice and there is no doubt that it can be distinguished from a crime, but I think what Ulbricht was getting at is that people will make bad decisions and it should be their choice. Anyway you slice it your hypothetical meth person committed a crime. But we have to recognize and accept that people will continue to commit crimes and if so, could it be argued that something like Silk Road minimized the societal harm of our hypothetical meth head?

      I think my attitude toward policy is that I don’t think we can stop crime – but how can we mitigate its impact on society. And further, we have a responsibility to implement policy that does so mitigate the societal impact of crimes.

  2. I don’t agree with the previous commenter in that I do not think Albright is being disingenuous when he articulates the positives of the Silk Road. Just because some drugs are more harmful than others does not necessarily mean we should only only achieve the positive benefits of providing a safer alternative to acquire the least harmful drugs.

    This does not mean I think every hard drug should be bought and sold in a manner in which completely unsupervised such as the dark web, but the logic behind marijuana legalization (It’s happening anyway, so why waste our resources on policing it) still in a way can apply other drugs. The government doesn’t need to tax it and derive revenue from it like some states have done with marijuana, but the fact is, people who really want to get heroin, are going to get it whether or not it is illegal. So why not just let a way exist in which one can acquire it that is removed from the violent realities of the drug trade.

    That being said, I don’t think a completely unregulated dark web is exactly the answer to this (I might be too naively influenced by season 3 of “The Wire” given it is my favorite television show of all time, but the main arc of that season illustrates a way in which this could theoretically work if we took it seriously) because of other iterations of the dark web are being used as a secondary marketplace for firearms. (http://www.wired.com/2014/04/grams-search-engine-dark-web) If such uses of the dark web became more widespread, I would tolerate a lot more government intervention and regulation of Internet activity that Alex mentioned if it was to specifically make sure people who for whatever reason should not have guns, don’t get guns.

    Given that we already have a problem with not sufficiently monitoring the flow of firearms in this country, I don’t think allowing any version of the web to exist where anyone with an Internet connection can get his or her hands on a gun is a wise thing to do. Creating a marketplace where users are insulated from the violence of the drug trade and educated about drug use is not a bad idea in and of itself, I’m just not sure how feasible it is to create such a thing while excluding any other unsavory elements. (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/05/ulbrichts-lawyer-theres-no-evidence-silk-road-caused-overdoses/)

    I look forward to seeing what the rest of the class thinks about this topic.

    • Thanks for your comment. I echo completely a lot of what you think. To what extent do our current laws actually impact the desire of creators of dark web content? I think the answer is a large degree. It’s almost like a chicken/egg argument and which came first. If the government accepted that people will be human and make bad decisions and brought all those bad decisions out of the darkness of the dark web (not sure what that would like practically – maybe we can discuss) then would the impetus for the dark web even be there? Or was it that there was too many poor decisions that resulted in the laws and they do adequately reduce the number of crimes? If that’s the case though, why do we have for-profit prison companies. It almost seems like a thriving industry based largely on indigent african americans that have committed minor drug offenses, namely marijuana possession. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-w-whitehead/prison-privatization_b_1414467.html The article points out that violent crime has been on the decline, yet incarceration has tripled!

  3. The conspiracies! What a crazy dive into the dark net and cyber currency. Very interesting post.

    To answer one of your questions, I think the federal government’s interest in regulating the dark net is a compelling interest, however, I don’t think it has been framed properly. As your post reads, it does seem like the data collection is of primary concern to the government. I think it is pretty established that the federal government has an interest in regulating intrastate commerce. If the arguments were framed where the state action was to regulate commerce, then I think the government has more of a winning argument.

    Something from our readings that really worried me was the article about Grams, a search engine for the dark net. EN1. When founder refused to give his name for the article, I thought to myself, can’t someone just figure out his identify based on his Reddit account? If there are programmers who can shut down websites, surely there are law enforcement programmers that can find this person’s true identity?
    Overall, I am very interested in learning more about this topic and to our class discussion on Wednesday.

    EN1: http://www.wired.com/2014/04/grams-search-engine-dark-web

    • Thanks Christina. I agree on the way it was framed. As I embarked on my reading I thought I would find some failed policy with the war on drugs, but I agree I think the government knowing all is a huge, dare I say, primary, motivator. As Professor Jacobs said, modern day Panopticon perhaps. You most likely aren’t being watched but you just don’t know.

  4. I thought the portion about the banks sort of being a set of eyes for the government was very interesting. I was not aware that my spending could be reported to the government without my knowledge or consent.

    The whole idea of the dark web is still very bizarre to me and I think the arguments about it being a safer place for drug transactions are a cop out. What is even more concerning is that I don’t know that the law will ever catch up to the technology in this area. Silk Road was taken down but a new site could easily pop up to replace it. The article about the person that is creating ‘Google’ for the dark web really caught my attention. I just don’t think we should be making it easier for people to purchase these illegal products. It’s also concerning that people are anonymously extorting Bitcoins. Bitcoins are what you have to use to pay for things on the dark web. People should be permitted to anonymously harass someone in order to obtain currency to purchase illegal products. I hope that someone comes forward with information about these DD4C attacks.

    • I didn’t get the reading you all got, and didn’t read anything about DD4C attacks but did a little research and it looks like DDOS attacks with the intent to extort digital currency have been on the rise and I think is horrible. In my opinion, this is the kind of financial crime that needs to be prioritized. If I was in charge of an agency and was tasked with having to put all my resources into taking down silk road 4 or the hacking groups that are extorting legitimate business like meetup.com and github I would hands down go after the latter! http://www.forbes.com/sites/davelewis/2014/06/11/feedly-suffers-extortion-related-ddos-attack/

  5. I think one point in your article that i disagree with is calling the dark net “teeny tiny.” As relative to the rest of the internet, sure; the dark net is dwarfed by Facebook, browser games, and other more mundane websites. But the internet is a massive place, and the scale of the dark net escalates appropriately. Calling it a “teeny tiny” problem is like calling Earth a “teeny tiny” planet because Jupiter or the Sun is so much bigger. Additionally, the size of the dark net isn’t so much the issue as the utterly depraved content contained therein.

    Secondly, the dark net is in no way “on its last legs”, though I earnestly wish it was. While the authorities are getting better at tracking down consumers of dark net materials (child porn, drugs, trafficked humans, etc.) they are having much less luck with tracking down the people PRODUCING these things. I believe this is largely due to two reasons: the first is that the consumers generally do not have the resources or wherewithal to protect themselves as thoroughly as the producers and career criminals on the other end of the computer screen.

    The second reason is because our current legal system focuses heavily on the punishment of the consumer, with much less of a focus on the producers of the forbidden content. There is a reason that the denizens of the dark net involved in the darker side of the internet avoid the United States; our laws cannot reach far beyond our borders without international aid, and the countries most involved in depraved acts (sex tourism, human trafficking, drug manufacture, etc.) tend to be the ones that aren’t cooperative or capable of cooperating with the global legal community. These people basically act with impunity, beyond the reach of most laws unless they’re stupid, slip-up, and end up on an airplane bound to the U.S.

    • I apologize for minimizing the gravity of the dark web by referring to it as “teeny tiny” and you are right that just because it is one hundredth of one percent of the web does not mean it is not serious. My undergrad and graduate education was in accounting so I think that’s the bean counter in me coming out. Thanks for helping me put it back into perspective!

      I also agree that on its last legs may be a misnomer but I do think that our current policy is doing a really good job of containing it if not decreasing it – or at least that how it appeared from my readings but certainly my touching the tip of the iceberg is scarcely sufficient to conclude with certainty its on the decline.

      I completely agree that, to any extent more can be done, it needs to be on the supply side rather than the demand side. Criminalizing human trafficking victims and personal drug possession is absurd when the coercion and force is on the supply side. So how then can we go after the supply side of these crimes? Let’s brainstorm more on this tonight.

  6. I also don’t think Albright is being disingenuous. I am not cool with murders and hitmen and that stuff, but I think that I agree with the theory and impact of a source taking out the crime. Should it be legal? Probably not, but I think it might work. It’s hard because you cannot advocate for crime and crime to be regulated, but if the laws you have are ineffective, what’s the difference? We have this goal as a society for no crime. We want no murders, no one to do drugs, no one to NEED to be policed. The fact of the matter is that we have those problems and are going to continue to have that problems. No rule of law is going to completely eliminate or deter certain types of crime.

    The dark-web itself is a dangerous place because of the lack of regulation. As Josh pointed out, when people start selling firearms and ordering hitmen on it, then it becomes more dangerous. Can a version of the dark-web exist with government control? I think that we, as a society, are far too sensitive for that to occur.

    I think the government really wants to have as much information about our financial and personal lives as possible. I look forward to talking more about that aspect in class. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Anthony. I completely agree. It doesn’t seem like silk road should be legal but it must be acknowledged that to some extent violence was out of the equation and any harm done was on the individual making a poor choice. We don’t have to applaud it but we have to think about what lessons we might be able to take away from it in considering policies that could disrupt the supply chain of criminal activity. As I think through possibilities I tend to come back to somehow bringing stupid decisions above the table and outside the dark web. Again, I’m not sure what that would look like practically but I think there would be a lot less hitmen and murders if the government somehow regulated bad decisions.

  7. I found Ulbricht’s sell of the Silk Road fascinating. On one hand, I agree with other commenters that there shouldn’t be some unregulated marketplace to buy drugs, but on the other hand, I can see Ulbricht’s point about it being safer than a typical drug deal. (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/05/ulbrichts-lawyer-theres-no-evidence-silk-road-caused-overdoses/) I don’t know if the Silk Road really is the answer to that, but I think there is some showing of trying to make it safer. The fact that there are physicians helping purchasers was interesting. I do, however, like commenters above, have concerns about the sales of guns on the dark web. I see that as much more dangerous and worrisome than drug sales.

    I think the whole theory that the government is interested in shutting down the dark web for our financial information is interesting. I look forward to talking about that more in class.

    • Not sure if you all got to read this in your reading but I’m thinking you did based on your comment about physicians helping purchasers. Just last week a physician, for the first time, was convicted of murder for recklessly prescribing medications that resulted in overdose. I found this interesting and think we can draw some parallels with Ulbricht. I’m not very familiar with this case, but I’m not thrilled with the verdict. Here again is someone having to be accountable for another persons bad decisions. Could we as lawyers face prosecution for our client’s bad decisions?

      http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-doctor-prescription-drugs-murder-overdose-verdict-20151030-story.html

  8. The real problem the dark net faces going forward, you know besides its blatant criminal activity, is the publicity it is receiving. While I agree that if the government takes down the silk road, that someone is going to put up an alternative marketplace, I do not think it will ever be as profitable as the first. The government will get better and quicker at taking these websites down and the publicity the sites are getting only will expedite that.

    As far as Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR), I think his points about the Silk Road being a safer black market are at least partially credible. If you remove the danger of the cartels and drug dealers in the movement of contraband it would seem to be safer. Also the silk road did not allow child pornography to be sold in it market. The newer silk roads do not have these same restrictions.

    • Thanks Drew. You make an interesting point that the progenitors of silk road have gotten darker in what is available on the marketplace! The devil you know or the devil you don’t know.

  9. I never really knew about anything related to the dark net so I personally found this to be a very interesting post. I thought learning more about Bitcoins was very insightful. I knew a little about it due to my research paper. I learned that Human Traffickers use Bitcoin on Backpage to buy and sell people because it is untraceable and as a result law enforcement has a difficult time catching these predators. However, I didn’t realize how popular Bitcoin really is. It’s crazy to think that things like this really exist in the world.

    I disagree with the comment that someone made about another site not being as profitable as the dark net if it were to be taken down. The Internet is a dangerous tool because of how highly unregulated it is. That being said, I think that if the government shuts down the dark net, people will just find another site to conduct their illegal activities and it will be harder for law enforcement to track them down. As a result, I think that the new site would have the potential to become even more popular than the first because of its untraceable features. A part of me wants it to be shut down but the other part disagrees because everyone will find somewhere else to go and it will be much more difficult to monitor by law enforcement.

    I look forward to our class discussion on Wednesday!

    • Thank you! You raise a good point in that maybe if law enforcement does more passive surveillance instead of active shut down it would slow the evolution of the dark web. Law enforcements hesitancy with that will likely be that if you aren’t shutting down then theres nothing tangible for the public to see so then we will assume they aren’t getting anything done.

  10. Thank you for the post and what an interesting and off the beat, yet totally relevant way to start the post! The Halloween story is fascinating and scary all at the same time. Do we want a society where we are constantly being aware of being monitored? Isn’t that some modern day Panopticom experiment? And look at what happens, knowing that they are monitored, some of the kids intentionally violated and provoked. Sometimes awareness of monitoring can inspire heightened criminal conduct. Getting caught for violating becomes a challenge or a dare. This is why forcing the police to wear body cameras won’t necessarily stop police brutality. But that’s a different class. 🙂

    Ulbricht’s notion that he is some kind of altruist is ridiculous. Cocaine and heroin are still grown, cut, transported and made available to markets, even his, by violent criminal organizations. In addition the sale of synthetic drugs is extraordinarily dangerous as we can see now with the problems with synthetic marijuana. His ramblings, in my mind, are justifications by an individual of privilege to excuse his own wrong doing. And it’s not like he wasn’t making money in the process. No, he was not providing a good service.

    Regulation of money laundering is nothing new. Both domestically and internationally all governments are worried about money laundering. The availability of untracebable money to criminal organizations can destabilize governments throughout the world. The growth of digital currency has been watched by the government for years now. It took some time before regulatory agencies understood what it was sufficiently to begin addressing the issue of regulation. So, I don’t think FINCEN developed its regulations because of Mt. Gox. Was Mt. Gox impacted? Yes, but so was every one who uses digital currency, in the same way that anyone who uses a bank account is impacted by anti-money laundering compliance policies.

    The dark web, Tor, anonymity all are double edged swords. They have positive uses as well as negative. The challenge is, as it always is, to allow the legitimate uses while at the same time limiting the accessibility of the technology to the criminal element.

  11. All, I just added a picture of Panopticon that Professor Jacobs mentioned.

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