Brown: Can the Silk Road be stopped?


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The Internet has redefined the principle of supply and demand in that the distance between the two has been reduced dramatically. Anything from an obscure band T-shirt to a part for your dirt bike can be purchased after a few Google searches and typing in a credit-card number. The best part is that you can purchase any array of goods from across the globe from the comfort of your home.

However, present in any innovation is the potential for misuse and exploitation, contradicting the original purpose.

It’s easy to argue the benefits of websites such as Amazon and Ebay, but when we venture into the realm of heroin and stolen bank accounts being sold over the Internet, it becomes a different story. The growth of the Internet has brought with it a plethora of tools that have made our lives easier, but it has also allowed for the formation of digital black markets in the crevices of cyberspace that operate largely outside the jurisdiction of traditional law enforcement.

Blake Benthall, the alleged operator of an infamous deep-web marketplace called Silk Road 2.0, was arrested on Nov. 6, along with at least 16 other people in a sweep made through a coordinated international effort. These illegal marketplaces thrive in areas of the Internet not accessible through normal means like standard search engines. These sites require special browsers for navigation such as Tor, which uses systems of proxies for anonymity. The anonymity and relative seclusion make this an ideal tool for the buying and selling of illegal goods.

When trying to shut down these black markets, two problems become immediately apparent. The first is that the technology utilized will continue to evolve with the corresponding demand for the goods acquired through them. In this sense, supply and demand serve as a catalyst in the evolution of illegal activity. The second problem is that in the so-called darknet, it is said when one site goes down, two more appear, and sometimes the new incarnations are bigger and worse than the predecessor. These illicit deep-web sites are often aptly compared to the Hydra in Greek mythology, which could not be killed by simply removing one head at a time.

With the shutdown of Silk Road 2.0, new markets have grown and poised themselves to fill the space left behind. While the Silk Road primarily dealt in drugs, some of the up-and-coming deep-web sites offer much more in terms of products. The site Evolution, for example, sells forged documents, stolen credit-card numbers, and online account information in addition to drugs and weapons. What we see here is the truest example of extreme capitalism in modern society. The incentive to make the most profit and sell the most illicit products only grows when the stakes rise with increased scrutiny from law-enforcement. The rise in popularity of these lucrative dark-web black markets could be seen as this generation’s Prohibition, only this time the battle against regulation is being fought on our laptops. Technology will only continue to evolve to match the appetite of consumerism, and the profit potential will continue to motivate the growth of the marketplace until the hydra becomes too large to kill.

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