Aficionados of the television programme Seinfeld may recall George Costanza’s frank assessment that the internet had only two significant uses: stock tips and porn. But the world has changed markedly since the 1990s and the internet now has many uses that were not anticipated back then. The Dark Web, which has emerged in the last few years, brings with it easy access to sites designed to facilitate illegal activity. Involvement in online black market trade can lead to serious criminal consequences.
What is the dark web?
The dark web is internet content that exists on overlay networks that use the internet but require specific software, configurations or authorizations to be accessed. The dark web forms a small part of the deep web, the part of the Web not indexed by search engines (although sometimes the term deep web is mistakenly used to refer specifically to the dark web).
The darknets which constitute the dark web include small, friend-to-friend or peer-to-peer networks, as well as large, popular networks like Tor, Freenet, and I2P, operated by public organizations and individuals.
Users of the dark web refer to the regular web as “Clearnet” due to its unencrypted nature.
What is the dark web used for?
The dark web is used for a range of illegal activities, most notably the exchange of child exploitation material and illicit drugs.
Child abuse material
Concerted transnational efforts by law enforcement agencies have seen the detection and apprehension of large rings of paedophiles based across the world, including Australia. Frequently, persons arrested in Australia for child sex offences have used the dark web in one way or another in the course of their offending.
The emergence of exchanges such as Silk Road on the dark web have facilitated the exchange of illegal drugs across the internet. Silk Road was an online black market that operated from 2011 to 2013. Users were able to browse the ‘anonymous marketplace’ securely without risk of being monitored. New sellers had to purchase an account in an auction. Later, a fixed fee was charged for each new seller account. These activities attracted the attention of the FBI who shut down Silk Road and suppressed a later attempt to revive the marketplace.
The first arrest and conviction for dealing in drugs over Silk Road occurred in Australia, with the accused being apprehended trafficking in cocaine and MDMA. The founder of Silk Road, who went by the sobriquet “Dread Pirate Roberts”, was charged, tried and convicted on charges including money laundering, conspiracy to traffic narcotics and computer hacking. The US District Court in Manhattan sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and ordered him to forfeited 183 million dollars, being the proceeds of his crimes.
Dangers of buying drugs on the dark web
When buying drugs on the dark web, customers are encouraged to buy in bulk, with significantly lower rates being offered for purchases over a certain quantity. This creates additional perils for the user.
Aside from the risks of increased drug use and addiction, provisions under the criminal laws of all states and territories, deem any person apprehended with a trafficable or commercial quantity of illegal drugs to have the intention of selling or supplying the drugs to others. Under these ‘deeming provisions’, a trafficable or commercial quantity of a drug is determined by weight, rather than purity. This means that a person can be deemed to have the intention to sell or supply a drug, even when the amount of the actual drug is quite small and it is diluted in a large amount of other material.
Where an offender is apprehended with a large quantity of a drug, the matter can only be dealt with on indictment, and heard by a Judge rather than a Magistrate, with attendant increases in potential penalties.
Being declared a drug trafficker
In some jurisdictions, an offender can be declared a Drug Trafficker by a court, if the quantities seized exceed a particular amount. Declaration by a court that a person is a Drug Trafficker can have serious lifelong implications, as well as empowering the State to seize and sell the individual’s property as proceeds of crime.
John F Kennedy once observed that the character in Mandarin for the words “crisis” and “opportunity” were one and the same. When encountering the dark web, one should take entreaties of welcome to mean “beware”.
If you require legal advice or representation please contact Go To Court Lawyers.
By Phillip Kelly, Senior Associate