The use and popularity of the black darknet drug market in the US have been increasing in the past few years. The anonymity offered by darknet marketplaces enables users to steer clear of law enforcement. Current policy is centered on the identification of administrators of darknet marketplaces and the immediate shutdown of their platforms. Even though this policy has led to the successful shutdown of some marketplaces, new marketplaces have been quickly emerging to replace them. Moreover, the number of drug users purchasing drugs over the darknet has been continuously rising throughout the past few years.
A recently published paper details the current policy in addressing drug trading over the darknet in the US as well as alternative policies, such as boosting policing efforts and collaboration between stakeholders all over the world, criminalizing the usage of the Tor browser, and targeted efforts at identification of users accessing various darknet marketplaces. Throughout this article, we will go through the analysis presented in this paper.
The flourish of drug trading over the darknet has proven to be extremely difficult to address, thanks to the anonymity offered via Tor. Even though the darknet offers drug dealers a secure place to sell illegal drugs anonymously, it also provides secure means for users operating in a legal manner, who seek to hide their identity while using the internet. Consequently, effective policy aiming at solving this problem must minimize the number of darknet marketplaces and individuals using them, be politically and fiscally feasible and protect the privacy of individuals operating legally.
The following parts will delve into the current policy and the potential alternatives that can address the problem.
Current policy aimed at minimizing drug trading over darknet marketplaces has been focused on identification of the marketplace administrator and immediate shutdown of the marketplace’s platform. The US Federal Government represents the primary enforcement agency and coordinates with government agencies all over the world in addressing and policing darknet drug trading. Even though the present policy has resulted in the shutdown of multiple darknet marketplaces, it has not resulted in an overall reduction in the volume of drug trading take place over the darknet, as new marketplaces have quickly emerged to replace the ones that had been shut down.
Implementation of the present policy is also successful in that it does not undermine the privacy of individuals using the darknet in a legal manner. As such, the current policy is politically feasible, as it would be supported by privacy advocates and policing agencies. Implementation of the current policy has proven to be not only effective but also feasible. The present policy is feasible because the US Federal Government and international entities have worked together to successfully shut down multiple darknet marketplaces.
Increasing policing efforts:
Increasing policing efforts towards darknet drug trading would include increasing efforts at surveilling darknet marketplaces, increasing inspection of mail packages, increasing efforts towards hacking darknet marketplaces, monitoring potential drug dealers, and other efforts directed towards shutting down marketplaces. Similar to the current policy, implementation of this alternative would fulfill the objective of promoting the privacy of individuals using the darknet in a legal manner. Nevertheless, implementation of this alternative would be more costly than the current policy as it would require additional funding to support further policing efforts. Due to the additional funding required, implementation of this alternative would be relatively difficult. Even though the US Federal Government is likely capable of providing the additional funding needed, its success would also rely on international governments’ willingness to work with the US Federal Government and ultimately provide funding to increase policing efforts.
Implementation of this alternative can lead to reduction in the volume of drug trading taking place on the darknet in the short term. Nevertheless, similar to the current policy, this alternative may drive marketplace administrators to develop newer methods to better evade the policing efforts of federal agencies.
Criminalization of usage of Tor:
A potential policy to minimize the number of individuals using darknet marketplaces is criminalizing the usage of the Tor browser. By rendering the download and usage of the Tor browser illegal, the number of new individuals accessing darknet marketplaces to buy drugs would be reduced, and some present users would be reluctant to access them. Nonetheless, the feasibility of implementation of this alternative is low due to the needed funding, enforcement, and effectiveness of achievement of policy objectives. Tor criminalization would require the US Federal Government to bear the funding needed to pay for additional personnel to monitor Tor downloads and develop an efficient method that can block the program.
Even if the US Federal Government could efficiently block the Tor browser, there would likely be workarounds that can render this alternative difficult to implement. Even if the download of the Tor browser might be illegal in the US, users could simply use a proxy or a VPN, or go to another country to download and use Tor. This would require coordination with international government agencies. It is also questionable if these international government agencies would support this policy, due to moral factors as they believe that the Tor browser is beneficial to users who seek to protect their online privacy, and they may not be willing to bear the additional costs of monitoring and criminalizing the download and usage of Tor.
Targeted efforts at identifying darknet marketplace users:
Efforts directed towards targeting darknet marketplaces to identify administrators, buyers, and sellers would likely results in the strongest impact in minimizing darknet drug trading. The cost of implementation of this alternative would be more or less similar to the current policy, yet the approach once a specific darknet marketplace is infiltrated would be rather different. Instead of shutting down the marketplace, this approach would allow the marketplace to continue operating so that sellers and buyers could be identified more easily. Nevertheless, this approach is unlikely to be adopted due to the moral issues associated with this grey area – allowing these marketplaces to continue operating for the sake of identifying sellers and buyers would be politically infeasible.
After the paper analyzes each alternative’s effectiveness in meeting its goals, the paper concludes that maintaining the current policy is the recommended decision. Even though this policy has not considerably reduced the volume of darknet drug trading, its funding is in place, and it does not undermine the usage of the darknet by legal users.