The notorious Silk Road website is back in business a month after federal authorities seized it and arrested its alleged proprietor.
The FBI shut it down following a two-and-a-half year investigation, claiming that it served as an underground marketplace for people to trade in contraband materials including narcotics, weapons and false documents — and even to arrange murders for hire. The site promised anonymity by putting several security measures in place and accepting payment only in Bitcoins.
This time around, Silk Road is reassuring its possibly apprehensive customers that security is a main priority and warning about possible delays as it gets back on its feet.
Guilty as Charged?
Silk Road’s resurrection came while its alleged owner and operator, Ross Ulbricht, was in custody following his arrest last month, which coincided with the site’s seizure. Ulbricht is thought to be the person behind the “Dread Pirate Roberts” persona. However, someone claiming that identity announced Silk Road’s “rise from the ashes” on Wednesday.
Ulbricht has denied the charges against him — which include conspiracy to traffic in narcotics, solicit murder and launder money — and has gained some supporters along the way. There is a crowdfunding site dedicated to Ulbricht that encourages supporters to donate Bitcoins to help him with legal fees.
Unless evidence is found that Ulbricht was able to help orchestrate the re-emergence of Silk Road while behind bars and prosecutors are able to include that in the charges, the site’s resurrection will have no official legal ramifications for him, said Mark Rasch, attorney and expert on cybersecurity and Internet law.
Unofficially, though, Silk Road’s speedy recovery could weigh heavily on anyone involved with the case, Rasch noted. It could further incense his prosecutors, reinforcing their determination to convict an alleged public face of illegal online activity.
On the other hand, it could help to rally supporters or even sway jury members into believing Silk Road’s swift resurrection is proof that Ulbricht was not masterminding the operation.
“Assuming he denies being responsible but the prosecutors think otherwise, they can try to show that he is this person who is continuing to promote illegal activity and that he lacks contrition,” Rasch told TechNewsWorld.
“It could also go the other way and show that Silk Road was something that was beyond his knowledge or ability to control,” he pointed out.
It will be some time before the Ulbricht’s fate is determined, but one thing is already clear: The job of regulators trying to shut down such sites is never done, said Rasch.
“Shutting down these sites is like a game of Whac-A-Mole,” he remarked. “Regulators are trying to take the incentive out of running these sites, making the costs so high … that they’ll stop doing it. They’re infiltrating organizations and networks, going after the people who set up the sites and the people who buy and sell things on it.”
Digital currencies may force the issue, suggested Peter Brill, attorney at Brill Legal Group.
“Efficient solutions to the self-regulation of these markets will become an expanding area of focus, as the rise of Bitcoin and similar currencies become the target of regulators worldwide,” he told TechNewsWorld.
Still, last month’s widely publicized shutdown of Silk Road may have deterred a few traders, and Ulbricht’s arrest may cause others who might be thinking of setting up an online black market to think twice, said Rasch.
“The thing about these sites is that in order to be effective, they have to be publicly accessible and visible, and the people who are buying from them have to believe that they are safe and won’t get in trouble,” he noted. “These busts make them think twice about that. You can’t end crime, but you can try to manage it, and that’s what’s going on here.”