The Internet : The Biggest Accomplice in Illegal Trade

Ross Ulbricht: the mastermind behind America’s grimacing online drug industry.

Before the internet opened doors to nearly everything and anything a criminal could possibly want, they had to be creative in smuggling drugs and peddling illicit materials. Connections were essential in order to procure such items. If forged papers and other such documents were needed, it would be a challenge in itself to find someone who is both capable and willing. Nothing was as simple as a click of a mouse away like it is today.

Most internet users are unaware of just how accessible the web is, but there are still millions utilizing what is known as the dark web in order to satisfy their desires. Unlike websites we frequent daily, the dark web is a network of encrypted data that cannot be traced nor can it be accessed by conventional browsers. One will require specialized browsers which has the same encrypting as the intended website in order to reach it. Furthermore, the currency used on the darknet are bitcoins and other cryptocurrency which, as the name suggests, is encrypted and therefore untraceable; unlike a paypal transaction or one that goes through a bank.

There are many online black markets but the most popular one was Silk Road, notorious for drug dealings. Founded in February 2011, it sold everything from Lysergic acid diethylamide also known as LSD or Acid, to fake driver licenses. The website was strict about their regulations on items offered at the darknet market and had a ban anything which might “harm or defraud“.

Not all darknet websites were as moral as Silk Road was, and it spawned numerous successors especially after it was shut down in October 2013. The ones which do not impose prohibitions became a haven to paedophiles, money launderers and other common criminals. There is the potential of owning exotic wildlife or firearms through dealings on the darknet.

Furthermore, the anonymity of the dark web makes it virtually impossible for police to crack down on these criminals without getting creative and breaking some rules. But law enforcements are wising up and setting up camp in these markets to wait for suspects to come knocking. Similarly to what is being done in Australia, whereby one of the largest child exploitation sites are run by the police.

One of the biggest problems about the darknet is that it cannot be monitored with “scanners, scrapers, or web crawlers”, according to Huffington Post. It is worrisome that in order to pick up on sensitive or offending data, one has to manually scour the forums and create connections with the users. This is time-consuming and is not incredibly efficient.

There are calls for research to “better understand the mechanisms by which the data is acquired and shared amongst criminals, and develop best practices for detecting and responding to the cyber-attacks that can result if stolen credentials are sold on the dark web”; perhaps in doing so and regularizing the darknet, it will become less of a black hole.

But even without the darknet, one could potentially get ivory or marijuana seeds through legitimate websites. And aside from what is acknowledged as crime, there are common practices which have become normalized despite still being illegal. Torrents and piracy.

Perhaps one of the more lucrative business on the internet. However, it is not a business and nobody is getting paid to rip movies and putting them on the internet for the masses to enjoy. It is not limited to entertainment; software, pricey ones, have their own reddit forums on how to crack them so a subscription or purchase is not necessary.

Two of the most torrented shows are Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. In order to combat piracy, the company behind The Walking Dead, AMC has begun to place secret watermarks on their episodes. This will allow them to trace the leak and follow how their show is being dispersed.

Many consumers that participate in the downloading of blockbusters or series and software for their own consumption fail to see how their actions are impacting a large number of employees. It feels harmless, watching a movie for free. Furthermore, producers and their studios still generate a large sum of money, right?

No. It is not “a victimless crime“. Not many people would be willing to pay X amount for something they can get elsewhere for free. This makes it hard for studios to sell screening right to broadcasting agencies and drastically impacts their revenue. Everyone from the actors down to the props guy require a salary, and that comes from the profit of the project.

At the end of the line, when producers are no longer making a sustainable amount of money, creations will trickle to a stop. And then we will have nobody to blame but ourselves when there is no more entertainment or big blockbuster “coming in summer”.

A double edged sword, the internet may have given freedom a whole new meaning: making data accessible from any device and it has also perpetuated criminal activities. But people will always find ways to twist applications and use them for their own gains, and this is true over a broad spectrum. In other words, it is not the gun, it is the person holding it.

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