Of course you can buy drugs online. The Silk Road website is an underground Ebay-esque marketplace that has become the premier destination for buying and selling drugs online – and authorities are powerless to shut it down. The website was founded in February 2011, and recent research has shown that over a six month period at the end of last year, sales on the site doubled to $1,7 million (R15, 7 million) per month.
Even though law enforcement officials around the world are fully aware of the site, there is nothing that can be done to close it down with existing legislation. The website is accessible via invite only, and transactions are made with Bitcoins, a virtual currency.
According to anonymous users, the site is regarded as a one-stop-shop for connoisseurs – an easy way to track better quality drugs.
The site isn’t easy to use, but doesn’t require particular expertise: If you can set up a direct debit and follow a recipe for risotto then you’ll work it out.
After purchase, the money is held by a middle man until delivery. A partial refund service is in place for missing packages.
According to an unnamed buyer, the quality is more consistent, the sale is safer and allows for a better experience, negating the risks associated with street transactions.
Today, Silk road lists more than 10,000 items, 7,000 of which are drugs while the rest are erotica, books and fake IDs.
Dr Nicolas Christin researched the site and believes Silk Road is exponentially larger than it was in July 2012.
It’s not a matter of the police locking a few guys up to end this. It is very distributed: we are looking at more than 600 sellers each month.
The main question is how a this site has managed to evade the law while still generating millions in revenue every month.
Silk Road runs as a “hidden service” on a popular internet anonymising tool known as Tor (a staple of activists avoiding internet censorship or government crack downs). This makes it impossible to identify the physical location of the computers operating the marketplace, or those visiting it. A large part of the funding for Tor comes from the US state department’s internet freedom budget.
US senator, Chuck Schumer said:
It’s a certifiable one-stop shop for illegal drugs that represents the most brazen attempt to peddle drugs online that we have ever seen
Silk Road also uses Bitcoin, which is an encrypted online currency. The currency is not controlled by a government, company or group. It uses a series of complex cryptographic calculations to determine how many Bitcoins there are in existence and how many are traded.
A single Bitcoin trades at $70 (R649) and the value of all the world’s Bitcoins stands at an estimated $800 million (R7,4 billion), which would make it the fattest growing currency in the world.
Bitcoin developer and activist, Amir Taaki refutes the claims that the currency’s biggest use is unethical. Taaki claims that freedom to purchase is freedom of speech.
People want drugs. The drugs war is probably a failed war. I want to get rid of cartels. The way to do that is for people to buy their drugs straight from the producer. That’s what’s cool about things like Silk Road – you can bypass gangs.
At this point there’s no penalty for politicians saying ‘yeah, let’s ban Bitcoin, you can buy drugs online, so let’s ban it’. But if politicians would ban Bitcoin for that, it is like burning an entire village to roast a pig. It’s like shutting down the internet because someone’s posting pornography.
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