Internet Drug Purchases Reaching Whole New Level
On October 2, 2013, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seized and shut down the website known as the Silk Road, and arrested a 29-year-old man suspected of being the owner and operator of the site. The Silk Road was an online black market, the majority of which was dedicated to buying and selling drugs. Similar to eBay or Craigslist, people could post listings to advertise drugs that they had for sale, while potential buyers could search or browse the site to find their drug of choice, purchase it anonymously and have it shipped to their home or P.O. box. The Silk Road had become immensely popular among drug users.
Shortly prior to the arrest, a U.S. Attorney reported that the Silk Road had more than 957,000 registered users, with upwards of 1.22 million transactions logged between February 6, 2011, and July 23 of this year. The currency that Silk Road members were using was the new bitcoin cryptocurrency, and the total revenue from transactions on the site added up to more than 9.5 million bitcoins, a figure that translates to $1,46 billion at the current exchange rate.
How Did Silk Road Work
Those who are involved with drugs may already have heard of Silk Road and websites which serve functions similar to it, but for most people, the fact that there was an online marketplace where users could casually shop for drugs has come as a considerable shock. This is especially true in light of the recent revelations about the scope of the National Security Agency’s domestic spying programs. To put it bluntly, how could anyone in their right mind think that it would be safe to buy drugs online, given the fact that the purchase could so easily be traced back to the user’s computer? Silk Road worked using a routing service known as Tor, which works by applying multiple layers of encryption to a user’s IP address, the unique numerical code that identifies a computer, tablet, smartphone or other device for connecting to the internet. After encrypting the IP number, Tor then routes the number to dozens of locations across the globe, with the result that anyone attempting to trace the IP address would find it popping up at random throughout the world and would be unable to pin down the actual location. Silk Road would then collect a 10% commission on every transaction, making it a highly lucrative venture, especially when the profits are compared to the overhead; the man charged with crimes in connection with operating Silk Road allegedly did most of his work on the site using his laptop at a local coffee shop, and was using the free wi-fi at the public library when he was arrested.
Why do People Buy Drugs Online?
The huge scope of the online drug trade is staggering to comprehend, but the reasons for it are easy to understand. Buying drugs online makes it possible for a user to get the drugs that he or she needs to fuel an addiction without the trouble of finding a dealer on the street. Until the recent seizure of Silk Road, it also offered peace of mind from the expectation of privacy; Silk Road members would have believed that they were secure against the possibility of an arrest during a drug deal, because they could make their purchases anonymously online and then wait for a FedEx delivery or check their mailbox. Both of these perceived advantages were at the same time issues that meant that Silk Road was a major contributor to the spread of drugs in society; if drugs are easier to obtain, more people will use them.
The site was harmful in another way, this one having to do with selection. Under normal circumstances, a drug user will often be somewhat limited in what he or she can buy from the dealers the person knows, and even if it was possible to find a small amount of a different drug to try, it might not be so easy to start using the new drug on a regular basis. Silk Road broke down this barrier by offering an endless selection of different types of drugs, thereby facilitating experimentation and possibly increasing the chances that a person would end up addicted.
Now that the site has been shut down by the Department of Justice, it can be expected that others will spring up in its place to stake a claim to a share of the lucrative market. It is to be hoped, however, that the widespread media attention given to the case will help to raise awareness about the issue so that parents and others can take action to ensure that their loved ones do not get involved in the online drug trade.