Opinion: Dragging Bitcoin into the War on Darknet Drugs

By Kyle Torpey Oct 30, 2014 3:06 PM EST

bitcoin and the darknet

NEW YORK (InsideBitcoins) — Members of the bitcoin community will remember New York Senator Charles Schumer for his riveting speech on the Senate floor where he demanded that the U.S. Government shut down Silk Road. Although it took more than two years for the shutdown to actually happen, you could say that Schumer was leading the charge for the crackdown on darknet marketplaces.

Joe Manchin of West Virginia was actually another proponent of the Silk Road shutdown, and he even went as far as to call for a bitcoin ban earlier this year. The letter from Manchin to federal regulators was duly mocked by the bitcoin community, as he didn’t seem to have a basic understanding of the technology behind cryptocurrencies.

The renewed call for a crackdown on darknet marketplaces

In a recent press release from Senator Charles Schumer, the various problems associated with darknet marketplaces are discussed, and a call is made for increased federal spending on supposed “cybercriminals.” The writer of the press release claims, “Schumer will say that although sales are already illegal, clearly federal law enforcement officials need more resources targeted at the problem in order to investigate and target these sales, which have only increased since the original site, Silk Road, was shut down.”

The basic point of Schumer’s press release seems to be support for increased funding for the War on Drugs. Much like Ronald Reagan’s public remarks on crack cocaine from the 1980s, there are portions of the press release that almost seem like an advertisement for darknet marketplaces. If a drug user or dealer had not heard about darknet marketplaces in the past, they would undoubtedly become interested in them after reading the following paragraph:

“Visitors to these websites can purchase an array of illegal drugs including cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamines and prescription narcotics, in various quantities. Users post the product and the quantity they are selling and buyers can then do comparison shopping. In addition to drugs, visitors to the site can purchase illegal firearms. The websites even allows user to rate the level of service they receive from drug dealers.”

 

Cutting off one head of the hydra

The obvious issue with Schumer and Manchin’s joint call for cracking down on Silk Road is that there is more than just one darknet marketplace in existence. It is analogous to the situation where certain individuals thought the idea of P2P file sharing was defeated after Napster’s servers were seized. The shutdown of Napster just led to the creation of other forms of file sharing software such as Kazaa and Limewire. The continued censorship of all of these file-sharing protocols eventually led to BitTorrent. Although not specifically made for the purposes of illegal trade, the darknet marketplaces have their own form of BitTorrent on the way in the form of OpenBazaar.

Federal regulators were able to shut down Silk Road, but that only led to a growing popularity for other darknet marketplaces such as Black Market Reloaded and Silk Road 2.0. With OpenBazaar, law enforcement will only be able to target individual vendors rather than the actual marketplace.

The continuation of endless wars

The focus on darknet marketplaces by Senator Schumer and others is just a continuation of the U.S. government’s policy of endless wars. There’s the War on Drugs, War on Terror, War on Poverty, and many others. The politicians backing these wars will even admit that these battles cannot be won, but that doesn’t stop them from spending trillions of taxpayer dollars on them.

If we take Portugal’s decriminalization of illicit drug possession as an example, we can see that increased spending may not be the proper course of action when fighting drug use. At the very least, the decriminalization of drugs could create more room in the federal budget while likely not leading to an increase in drug use.

If you need an American-centric example, then just take a look at teen marijuana use before and after the plant was legalized for medicinal purposes.

Although correlation does not equal causation, increased spending on the War on Drugs may not lead to lower rates of drug use than if illicit drug possession was decriminalized. For this reason, it’s important to ask whether or not all of this spending on drug-related law enforcement is worth it. It’s definitely worth it to a certain segment of the population, as some industries rely on the War on Drugs for their profits.

In addition to the high costs of the War on Drugs, you also have to consider whether certain law enforcement tactics, such as posing as a friend on Facebook or using mass surveillance, are ethical. There’s also the obvious question of exactly who casual drug users are harming with their personal vices.

A copy of Narcotics Anonymous’s “Basic Text” from 1981 includes the statement, “Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.” It seems that Senator Schumer is following the same logical fallacies as an insane drug addict.

You can follow @kyletorpey on Twitter.

Photo credit: tanjila

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