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Drugs and the Dark Web

Fans of the TV show Seinfeld may remember George Costanza saying that the internet had only two significant uses: stock tips and porn. But the world has changed since the 90s and the internet now has many other uses. The dark web, whose use has grown exponentially in the last decade, brings with it easy access to sites used for illegal activity such as the sale of illicit drugs. Taking part in online black market trade can lead to serious criminal charges and penalties.

What is the dark web?

The dark web is internet content that exists on overlay networks that require specific software, configurations or authorizations to be accessed. It forms a small part of the deep web, the part of the internet that is not indexed by search engines like Google.

The darknets which constitute the dark web include small peer-to-peer networks, as well as large, popular networks like Tor, Freenet, and I2P, which are operated by public organizations and individuals. Dark web users refer to the regular web as “Clearnet” due to its unencrypted nature.

What is the dark web used for?

The dark web is used for a range of illicit activities, particularly the exchange of child exploitation material and illicit drugs.

Child abuse material

Concerted transnational efforts by police have seen the detection and apprehension of large rings of paedophiles across the world, including in Australia. Frequently, persons arrested for child sex offences have used the dark web in the course of their offending in one way or another.

Illicit drugs

The emergence of sites like Silk Road on the dark web has facilitated the sale of illegal drugs across the internet. Silk Road, an online black market, operated from 2011 to 2013. Users were able to browse the ‘anonymous marketplace’ securely without the risk of being monitored. New sellers had to buy an account in an auction. Later, a fixed fee was charged for new seller accounts. These activities attracted the FBI’s attention and it shut down Silk Road and suppressed a later attempt to revive the illegal marketplace.

The first arrest and conviction of a person for dealing in drugs over Silk Road actually occurred in Australia, with the accused apprehended for trafficking in cocaine and MDMA. The founder of Silk Road, who was known as “Dread Pirate Roberts”, was charged, tried and convicted on charges that including money laundering, computer hacking and conspiracy to traffic narcotics. The US District Court in Manhattan sentenced the man to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole and ordered him to forfeit 183 million dollars in proceeds of crime.

Dangers of buying drugs on the dark web

When buying drugs on the dark web, customers often buy in bulk, at significantly reduced prices for purchases over a certain quantity. This creates additional dangers for drug users.

Aside from the risks of increased drug use, there are deeming provisions under the criminal laws of all Australian jurisdictions, under which any person apprehended with a trafficable or commercial quantity of illegal drugs is deemed to have intended to sell or supply the drugs to other people. Under these provisions, a trafficable or commercial quantity of a drug is determined by the weight of the drug, rather than purity. This means that a person can be deemed to have intended to sell or supply a drug, even when the amount they possessed was quite small but it was diluted in a large amount of other material.

Indictable offence

Where an offender is caught with a large quantity of a drug, the matter can only be dealt with on indictment, and dealt with in a higher court rather than by a magistrate, with attendant increases in maximum penalties.

Being declared a drug trafficker

In some jurisdictions, a person can be declared a drug trafficker by a court, if the quantities seized exceed a particular amount. A declaration by a court that a person is a drug trafficker can have serious lifelong consequences as well as allowing the state to seize and sell the individual’s property as proceeds of crime.

If you require legal advice or representation please contact Armstrong Legal. 

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

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