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Is Aussie law enforcement using creative techniques on Silk Road?

Some time back a report, supposedly commissioned by Qld police, was leaked via the dark web.  Of course, being the dark web, it was impossible to confirm its legitimacy.  The discussion paper ‘Hidden in Plain Sight’ was called an extensive critique and response to Silk Road, the online drugs marketplace, well researched and referenced.

Has Australian Customs really become suddenly much more efficient?

The report contained a list of vulnerabilities of Silk Road that could be targeted and came up mostly empty-handed.  This should come as no surprise given the brazenness with which the site continues to operate. The authors concluded that the most strategic tactic law enforcement could use would be ‘undermining user trust’.  This would not involve identification and investigation of users of the site, but rather disruption of the marketplace by becoming ‘trusted’ participants of the site and later undermining confidence and trust in a particular area.

Over the past few months the forums have been full of disgruntled Aussie buyers and overseas sellers.  Buyers have complained of being ‘selectively scammed’ by overseas sellers, who blame the mythically capable Australian Customs for goods not arriving.  Other sellers claim that it is the buyers who are doing the scamming, making claims that goods never arrived and refusing to release money from escrow.

Thread titles in the forums such as ‘NO LONGER SELLING TO AUSTRALIANS’ are popping up with increasing regularity.  Other sellers require Australian buyers to finalise early before they will send their products.

Of course, it’s possible that Customs has suddenly become super awesomely efficient and is identifying half the mail entering the country.  But it is interesting that Customs continues to be ineffective when both seller and buyer are well-established members of the Silk Road site.

Many complaints aimed at sellers are from new forum members with few posts.  It would be a simple matter for law enforcement to litter the forums with multiple claims of being scammed to cause unease and suspicion among the community, particularly new buyers.  Actually placing small orders and then refusing to finalise the deal would also cause sellers to become frustrated in their dealings with Australians.

Assuming law enforcement has decided on the ‘undermining user trust’ method, it seems to be working.

4 Responses

  1. I’d love to see the “Hidden in plain sight” report, which I first read about in this useful news story back in Septembet:

    Other avenues to attack the Silk Road flagged in the report include social engineering, intersections between online transactions and the real world, and by targeting user error.,police-struggle-with-online-drug-networks.aspx#disqus_thread

    Totally agree with your speculation that the police are likely acting on the report.

    Love your work by the way – so good to see a sane voice making the sensible arguments clearly in the mainstream press. Paradoxically, prohibition is no regulation at all…

  2. I really like your blog, its informative, accurate and well balanced unlike the traditional media. From my point of view – It amazes me why people would bother with websites such as silk road, in most capital cities here in Australia I’ve lived in, you can very buy a wide range or illegal and pharmaceutical drugs, and in vast quantities . At every workplace and even at school as a kid finding drugs has been a most simple task, even if your a occasional or a frequent user of anything finding a supply is usually not a problem, yet some people would consider losing their money or worse by importing a substance themselves? it can’t see it being worth the risk despite the low detection rates, seriously really I dont know law enforcement bother trying to stop drugs being used, manufactured and imported when a significant part of the population will continue to use them despite any effort made, looking overall the current controls over the last 50 years has done little to deter their use, why cant they focus their ideology on harm reduction and legalisation?

    1. Thanks for your kind words about my blog – I really appreciate it.

      As for your questions, the users of Silk Road state a variety of reasons why they prefer it to traditional means of buying drugs:

      1. Price. For Australians, drugs like MDMA and Cocaine sell at around a quarter of street prices when they are imported directly.

      2. Quality. The user feedback system and forums provide a reasonably good assessment of the quality of drugs coming from a particular seller. Users have a much better idea of exactly what they are buying than when they purchase from a street dealer.

      3. Associations. A lot of casual users either don’t have the street contacts or don’t want to associate with the people who do their local dealing, particularly if those people are part of violent criminal networks.

      Of course, as you point, there are risks, the major one being the risk of massive penalties for importing substances.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

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