Silk Road Returns to Bedevil Law Enforcement

It’s baaaaack! Only a couple of months after being seized and shut down by FBI cyber-agents, the drug-peddling site Silk Road is up and running again on that hidden section of the Internet known as the Deep Web. The original founder of this infamous virtual trading post, Ross William Ulbricht, is still tucked safely behind bars at a high-security federal prison. But it appears that someone from his inner circle, or at least someone with enough advanced computer skills to gain fresh and unmonitored access to his site, has found a way to disable the FBI’s electronic padlock and reopen the Silk Road. This cloaked black market online portal cannot be reached via conventional search engine, but those who love to shop for illegal drugs eBay-style from the safety and convenience of their homes have always known where to find it. The original Silk Road was public enemy No. 1 in the eyes of the FBI, and it took thousands of hours of dedicated work by bleary-eyed federal investigators to break through the firewalls that protected the site and wrench control of it away from the elusive Dread Pirate Roberts (Ulbricht’s nom de plume). But it appears all of these efforts have gone for naught, as the DPR moniker has been adopted by an entirely new actor, whose real identity is as much of a mystery as Ulbricht’s used to be. When it was humming along at full power, the original Silk Road was a cash cow extraordinaire, and business experts have estimated that if it had been legal and put up for sale, its asking price would have been more than $2 billion. The success of the Silk Road translated into annual profits in the $80 million range for Ulbricht and his cohorts, which explains why those behind the new Silk Road were so eager to recycle the brand name and reach out to its established customer base. It is important to note that the temporary closure of the original Silk Road did not stop online trading in illegal drugs. As you might imagine, the Silk Road had and has plenty of competitors on the Deep Web, and most of its customers temporarily flocked to other popular covert outlets like Sheep and Black Market Reloaded to make their illicit connections. This shows that no matter how many illegal vending sites federal agents might hack into and close down, new ones will continually pop up to take their place; and if the ones they do close are just going to reopen at some point anyway, it renders the government’s attempt to combat the online drug trade through law enforcement strategies moot. Their bold action against the Silk Road may have made it appear as if the FBI really meant business—and in a way it did—but drug producers and suppliers are like dandelions that see the world as one big lawn, and thanks to the availability of the Internet, they have now spread so far and wide that they have covered the entire planet in a lush carpet of yellow.

What Works vs. What Doesn’t

It is too early to say if the new Silk Road will be able to replicate the success of the old one. But even if it fails to do so, people who want to purchase their drugs and drug paraphernalia online will continue to have a wealth of options to choose from in the Deep Web cesspool. In the grand scheme of things, it is possible that the government’s ongoing campaign against the prolific Deep Web drug trade could scare more than a few drug consumers away from online purchasing, because they might not feel their identities can be kept safe and secure from the prying eyes of the FBI and DEA. But if that happens, there is no doubt that addicts and other heavy drug users will find the means to obtain the drugs they crave. In the end, the attempt to control drug use by criminalizing it has proven to be practically ineffective, socially regressive and incredibly costly. Even if we were to believe the War on Drugs was an engagement worth pursuing on the off-chance it might deter at least some consumption, it must be remembered that public funds for law enforcement are limited and every dollar spent arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating drug users is a dollar that will not be made available for treatment and rehabilitation or public education, both of which would produce more permanently positive results. Journeys on the modern Silk Road are treacherous and filled with potholes. But until drug abusers get the help they need, they are always going to discover new rocky pathways on which to travel, no matter how many such roads are closed off to thru traffic.

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