The purchasing and selling of drugs has always been risky business and is often limited by supply. However, a new website removes all face-to-face interaction and enables people around the world to conduct drug deals online.
Silk Road has sprouted up in the digital world and have some dubbing it the ‘Amazon.com’ of illegal drugs. As an underground marketplace Silk Road provides an online e-commerce platform that connects drug dealers with buyers anywhere in the world
The website was started in February last year and has seen a steady rise to both buyers and sellers. Party drugs, such as ecstasy, sell for only a fraction of the street prices in Australia and can be delivered straight to your door within days. Most sellers are based in the UK and US. Surprisingly, the sites operators prohibit the buying or selling of goods that are intended to harm others.
According to a research paper by Nicolas Christin of Carnegie Mellon University revenue and users have been steadily rising since last year. If anything, the media coverage of Silk Road has only spurred drug consumers and sellers alike to use the site. He found that revenue for sellers could be as high as $1.9 million per month with $150,000 going to the sites operates. From the six-month study period, starting in Feburary this year, he estimates Silk Road to have facilitated up to 25,000 transactions to about 150,000 customers. Cannibas was found to be the most popular item.
These are alarming statistics for police around the world. The Australian Federal Police and Customs are so concerned that they recently made an announcement warning Silk Road users that while it is not an offence to use the website “their identity will not always remain anonymous and when caught, they will be prosecuted”.
In May, the AFP and Australian customs seized 120 kilograms of illicit substances ranging from heroin to designer drugs via the postal system during a three-month crackdown. Designer drugs are synthetic drugs desinged to circumvent the legal system. These seizures resulted in 22 cases against importers, notably a Melbourne man who has been allegedly linked to importing drugs and drug traffiking. Charged individuals can face up to a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and/or $825,000 fine.
Fairlie Mcllwraith, a senior research officer at the Queensland Alcohol and Drug Research and Education Centre, admits that drug use and demand isn’t changing. “When one particular drug becomes too hard to get users will often find another way,” Fairlie said. Silk Road provides this alternative to users.
A user admitted to using Silk Road “mainly because what I wanted was not available locally”.
What makes Silk Road so appealing is that it operates and conducts transactions under a blanket of security. First of all, connection to Silk Road is only achievable through connecting to the Tor network which funnels users through a series of networks that are constantly checked for security vulnerabilies. Secondly, Silk Road hides its server IP address and isn’t even listed in Google. Lastly, transactions are accomplished through trading the untraceable, but volatile, BitCoin currency.
Unfortunately, the sheer volume of parcels passing through the post make it near impossible for authorities to check every parcel thoroughly. Added with the new techniques used by criminals abroad the task is increasingly difficult. The AFP lacks any sort of jurisdiction over any website overseas. Authorities often rely on finding evidence about the importation of certain parcels before commencing targeted investigations.