On October 2, 2013, the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Ross William Ulbricht, a.k.a. “Dread Pirate Roberts,” in connection with operating Silk Road, an online drug marketplace, and executing a murder-for-hire of a site user. FBI officials shut down the Silk Road website hours after Ulbricht’s arrest and seized approximately $3.6 million in Bitcoin, making it the second largest Bitcoin seizure in history. The criminal complaint against Ulbricht filed by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York charged Ulbricht on three counts: narcotics trafficking, computer hacking, and money laundering.
Described as an “Amazon.com of illegal drugs” and an “eBay for drugs,” Silk Road provided an online forum for trading everything from Fentanyl lollipops to ecstasy to heroin. Silk Road was launched in February 2011 and made public by Gawker and other news outlets a few months later. New York Senator Chuck Schumer called on the DEA and Department of Justice to dismantle the website, describing it as “a certifiable one-stop shop for illegal drugs that represents the most brazen attempt to peddle drugs online that we have ever seen.” So, why did it take so long to take down Silk Road?
Law enforcement has struggled to bring down secretive online bazaars like Silk Road, even as sites continue their illegal operations because of the openness of the Internet in a relatively unregulated sphere. In the present matter, Silk Road benefited from two major innovations. First, Silk Road, like many other online black markets, was launched on the so-called “secret internet” or “Deep Web” by utilizing the Tor Network. Second, it protected anonymity further by adopting Bitcoin, a cryptographic currency that operates in a peer-to-peer electronic cash system, as its only form of acceptable currency.