It’s been called the largest illegal marketplace in history, and with an estimated billion dollars trading hands for things like hit men, drugs and weapons, it’s hard to argue the point.
On Wednesday, the site known as Silk Road was closed down by the Feds after the alleged owner appeared in court to answer charges.
Ross Ulbricht, who is known online as “Dread Pirate Roberts,” faces accusations of narcotics trafficking, money laundering, computer hacking and soliciting a murder-for-hire. His defense will likely be that, as a facilitator, he directly participated in none of these things, instead allowing his patrons to interact as they saw fit. However, the charges include an allegation that Ulbricht solicited another user in a murder-for-hire scheme.
Anonymous drug marketplace
The black market in drugs at the site was particularly troubling, as the ability to anonymously purchase methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin or other drugs gave users a third-party supply which protected them from law enforcement. Anonymity was maintained by using “bit coin” for transactions and secure, encrypted networks. The site also had information about how to vacuum-seal drugs and how to ship to addresses that weren’t directly connected to the actual buyer. One "pro tip" was to use Fed Ex or UPS instead of the U.S. Postal Service, since the latter can generate felony charges for use of the mail alone.
As reported in USA Today, the FBI has been monitoring the site since at least June and was able to connect Ulbricht with the operation by tracking his log on from a San Francisco Internet Café.
"Silk Road has emerged as the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet today," FBI Special Agent Christopher Tarbell wrote. "The site has sought to make conducting illegal transactions on the Internet as easy and frictionless as shopping online at mainstream e-commerce websites."
Unfortunately, we won’t see the end of online, illegal drug purchases with the closing of the Silk Road. While it was certainly the Amazon.com of such sites, buyers and sellers will find a way to find each other, especially those who’ve already experienced the slick interface Silk Road offered. The most likely scenario is to open a new site in a country where the U.S. has no jurisdiction and no treaty to enforce the law.