TANGLED IN THE DARK WEB: What lies beneath

By - CTL
April 4, 2017
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By Dorothy Thompson.

Andrew Scipione, NSW’s top police officer in the week that he retired told an inquiry into human trafficking by the NSW Parliament Chairman Paul Green, that Facebook was a harbor for criminals, including drug gangs and pedophile rings to evade detection.

Likening it to a lawless superpower that has more people than any country on earth without proper policing. In further testimony before the inquiry Mr. Scipione’s said Facebook has 1.86 billion active users — more than the population of China, the world’s most populous country with 1.37 billion people.

“Any nation has boundaries, it has highways, there are police that patrol highways, there are police that patrol precincts — they keep people safe,” he said. “(Facebook) doesn’t have any police force.

“So if you then take that down to the Dark Web you realise that this is going to be a significant problem … and a growing problem for us all.” The departing Police Commissioner also warned, “the so-called Dark Web that operates underneath the Internet was being used by criminals”.

Mr. Scipione’s warnings to a parliamentary inquiry into human trafficking came as senior police claim criminal syndicates also use Facebook to steal people’s identities.

“These groups set up Facebook accounts anonymously and they are extremely difficult to trace,” one senior police source said.

“The problem is compounded by the fact we don’t get a lot of help from Google and Facebook.”

Mr. Scipione also told the inquiry that pay-per-view child abuse was the next ­frontier in the “evil trade” of human trafficking.

WHAT IS THE DARK WEB

A few years ago on the afternoon of Oct. 1, 2013, a tall, slender, shaggy-haired man left his house on 15th Avenue in San Francisco. He paid $1,000 a month cash to share it with two housemates who knew him only as a quiet currency trader named Josh Terrey. His real name was Ross Ulbricht. He was 29 and had no police record. Dressed in jeans and a red T-shirt, Ulbricht headed to the Glen Park branch of the public library, where he made his way to the science-fiction section and logged on to his laptop using the free wi-fi. Several FBI agents dressed in plainclothes converged on him, pushed him up against a window, then escorted him from the building.

The FBI believed Ulbricht is a criminal known online as the Dread Pirate Roberts, a reference to the book and movie The Princess Bride. The Dread Pirate Roberts was the owner and administrator of The Silk Road, a wildly successful online bazaar where people bought and sold illegal goods–primarily drugs but also fake IDs, fireworks and hacking software. They could do this without getting caught because The Silk Road was located in a little-known region of the Internet called the Deep Web. In May 2015 Ross Ulbricht, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Judge said to him in sentencing:

“The stated purpose [of the Silk Road] was to be beyond the law. In the world you created over time, democracy didn’t exist. You were the captain of the ship, the Dread Pirate Roberts,” she told Ulbricht as she read the sentence, referring to his pseudonym as the Silk Road’s leader. “Silk Road’s birth and presence asserted that its…creator was better than the laws of this country. This is deeply troubling, terribly misguided, and very dangerous”.

Technically the Deep Web refers to the collection of all the websites and databases that search engines like Google don’t or can’t index, which in terms of the sheer volume of information is many times larger than the Web as we know it. But more loosely, the Deep Web is a specific branch of the Internet that’s distinguished by that increasingly rare commodity: complete anonymity. Nothing you do on the Deep Web can be associated with your real-world identity, unless you choose it to be. Most people never see it, though the software you need to access it is free and takes less than three minutes to download and install. If there’s a part of the grid that can be considered off the grid, it’s the Deep Web.

The Deep Web has plenty of valid reasons for existing. It’s a vital tool for intelligence agents, law enforcement, political dissidents and anybody who needs or wants to conduct their online affairs in private–which is, increasingly, everybody. According to a survey published in September 2015 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 86% of Internet users have attempted to delete or conceal their digital history, and 55% have tried to avoid being observed online by specific parties like their employers or the government.

But the Deep Web is also an ideal venue for doing things that are unlawful, especially when it’s combined, as in the case of The Silk Road, with the anonymous, virtually untraceable electronic currency Bitcoin.

“It allows all sorts of criminals who, in bygone eras, had to find open-air drug markets or an alley somewhere to engage in bad activity to do it openly,” argues Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, whose office is bringing a case against Ulbricht. For 2½ years The Silk Road acted as an Amazon-like clearinghouse for illegal goods, providing almost a million customers worldwide with $1.2 billion worth of contraband, according to the 39-page federal complaint against Ulbricht. The Dread Pirate Roberts, the Deep Web’s Jeff Bezos, allegedly collected some $80 million in fees.

Court cases have documented Facebook as being used by pedophiles to groom children, domestic violence offenders exploiting it to stalk victims and terrorists going online to recruit.

NSW’s Police Minister Troy Grant warned social media “makes crimes mobile”. “Technological advances, including the rapid growth of social media, pose a real and present danger,” he said.

“We also have a duty to protect our children from the horrible dark side of social media. Talk to your children, be aware of their activity online, and explain to them that the person on the other end of an online conversation isn’t always who they say they are.”

Inquiry chairman Paul Green said he expected the parliamentary committee to recommend the government to strengthen laws to clamp down on cybercrime facilitated by Facebook.

He said Facebook was a “global nation without rule”.

A Facebook spokeswoman said “all users must abide by community standards which prohibit the site being used to facilitate or organise criminal activity that causes physical harm to people, businesses or animals — or financial damage to people or businesses”. “We work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety,” she said.

When researching this article, I typed into my web browser “how to access the dark web”? Within minutes, Google was in touch with a message of inquiry. Don’t be foolish enough to believe that they are not watching your every keystroke, but when it comes to assisting police, or regulatory authorities, they are far less willing to cooperate. You can draw your own conclusions, I certainly have.

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