The dark web has placed a majority of internet illuminati in the crossroads—many spectators do not know whether to consider the hidden web as good or bad.
The dark web has become pivotal in debates circling the subject of online anonymity, about the good, the bad and the ugly.
At this point, world governments and fellow infrastructural stakeholders cannot decide on whether to scrap off the tenets of online anonymity and risk the wrath of human rights activists.
This is because, well, the dark web has particular offerings that qualify it as an instrument of public good and free expression.
While this article will not delve into the evidential nitty-gritty details of why we should appreciate the dark web, a policy perspective will be used to explicate the often misunderstood facts of dark web blessings.
The Dark Web—Is It Really a Threat?
A majority of the consumers of international media content have grown to think of the dark web as “scary.” The purport of darknet spaces has, for a long time, been malleable to negative media coverage.
The hidden web is often portrayed as a hotbed of eerie and illicit activities. Like many stereotypes, this is a misconception that is often construed to appeal to a biased narrow-minded worldview.
Still, to stay focused, we all agree to the fact that the dark web has substantially supported a host of illegal activities.
However, this aspect should not be singled out and glorified to be the primary identity of the hidden web.
An understanding of the dark web’s core values and its initial intended purpose is critical to establishing a fair trial for the darknet community.
Policy makers must achieve comprehension as far as basic provisions of the dark web are concerned in order to engage the great darknet debate intelligently as they move towards the achievement of sustainable policy.
Having said that, a brief look at select expert opinion regarding the dark web can set us off in discovering whether the dark web stands to be a threat—or not.
According to Bruce Schneier, an acclaimed internet privacy pundit, online anonymity is absolutely necessary for people living in not-so-democratic countries.
These are nations where people are aggressively discouraged by their governments against using the internet as a platform of free thought, destinations where one could be tortured or killed for restricted online activities.
Schneier backed his argument by citing the U.S. government’s role in Tor development and subsequent funding—the U.S. State Department acknowledged the importance of online anonymity.
Moreover, the U.K.’s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology once produced a darknet report detailing the significance of banning online anonymity.
According to this body, there exists a widespread equivocal agreement that discourages an entire ban on online anonymity—such a policy cannot be acceptable, save for its lack of feasibility.
The parliamentary advisers have said before that, while Tor may be used for criminal activity, it has been instrumental in upholding public interest.
A Public Policy Perspective
To accentuate on what has been said before, the dark web is a entity often misconstrued by most governments and the public.
News of killings and drug dealings have predominated media frontiers as far as the darknet discourse is concerned.
In truth, like in all aspects of life, the dark web’s criminal element cannot be used to identify the entire hidden web.
In fact, the surface web is still rimmed with online crime and its associated vices.
Yes, you may encounter creepy websites on the dark web but this reality splashes over to the surface web too.
Otherwise, accusations leveled against darknet legitimacy are largely prosaic in nature—the dark web offers vital privacy to people at risk, and to the average Joe like you and me.
The Dark Web as a Function of Human Freedom
Hitherto, the Tor Project, and its counterpart crypto tools that support dark web activity, has been hailed by privacy proponents as a sure bet in countering government-sponsored online surveillance.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a leading defender of digital privacy and anonymity, has praised Tor repeatedly and referred to it as the digital equivalent of the constitutional First Amendment.
This claim was openly backed by American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has been vocal on aspects of free speech.
Additionally, Fight for the Future, a Silicon Valley activist outfit, sees Tor as spy-proof in light of the National Security Agency espionage framework.
For Edward Snowden, the world-famous whistleblower, Tor is the classic example of a basic tool disposed to “free minds,” which can be used to challenge oppressive government policies along the interests of free press.
Moreover, Reporters Without Borders, a powerful force in the world of free speech, has recommended Tor adoption as a vital online survival kit for bloggers and activists in countries riddled with state intimidation and censorship.
It is an undeniable fact that online anonymity is considered to be the ultimate vehicle of human freedom.
This point is thoroughly reflected in the words of opinion makers, such as Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who view Tor as a prerequisite to the future of democracy.
Certainly, supporters of the privacy-centric Tor and the dark web extend beyond the civil rights community—they also traverse the world of business.
Regarding this, various tech and business pundits have come out to support the Tor movement as the next frontier towards the achievement of total human freedoms in the world.
Problem: Government-Sponsored Anti-Dark Web Sentiment
The dark web elicits mixed feelings across the entire world. By now, many citizens may agree that the hidden web’s existence should be viewed as an element of public good and instrument of free expression.
Nonetheless, we cannot ignore the fact that governments have continuously fired unnecessary and rather futile shots at the good old dark web.
Then, what are the potential ramifications of fighting the dark web?
This can only be answered in one word—chaos.
In the context of this article, chaos denotes institutional mistrust and disobedience between the people, civic organizations, media and their governments.
This reality is sufficiently explicated through case examples of when governments went too far to try and “kill the dark web.”
Now, let’s take a look at one example.
Case Example: Venezuela
Looking back on the Venezuelan case, an April 2017 notice by the United Nations reprimanded the Venezuelan administration for practicing internet censorship, and thus defeating its people’s freedom of expression.
The official statement maintained that the Venezuelan government’s move contradicted international standards for maintaining law and order.
In spite of Venezuela’s oil-rich national narrative, the country has a crippled economy that has culminated in widespread displeasure, crime and civic protests within its borders.
For a long time, physical protests were effectively quelled by the government, and this sent protestors to online platforms.
The government of the day has been accused of tackling online protests through arbitrary arrests and intimidation, including the forcing of activists to surrender their online credentials.
Under these conditions, the displeased society embraced Tor as the last resort for activists, the media and influential social actors to operate safely online.
Seemingly, recent events in the same country have failed to pick critical lessons from the 2017 web woes.
The latest fight against the Tor network, by the nation’s administration, has aggravated an already-existing sense of tension in Venezuela.
As we speak, the government has barred all access to Tor, an action that comes hot in the heels of a wave of web blocks against anti-government sentiment within online circles.
The recent block has affected both aspects of direct and bridge relay access as far as online anonymity is concerned.
In the end, while the Venezuelan government may think of Tor’s blockage as a sure fix to protect its interests, it is just a matter of time until the elephant in the room spirals into rage—time will tell.
Conclusion: A Way Forward
The debate surrounding fundamental provisions of the hidden web is far from over. In the abstract, online anonymity is a double-faced baby that needs care.
On one side, policy makers are forced to control the evolution of dark web attitudes and its ramifications on law and order.
On the other hand, dark web policies must accommodate the ideals of free speech and public good, and align themselves to international expectations of human rights.
Factually, the dark web, by nature, lacks the ability to filter the good from the bad—it cannot distinguish criminal masterminds from ordinary netizens.
Therefore, it is prudent for governments and counterpart stakeholders to be cautious in their quest to maintain law and order.
They should not blow the privacy bubble protecting a regular online user while searching for the “bad apples.”
To suggest, a proper way to approach this subject is to police the dark web by targeting illegal sites—not illegal users.
The prerogative to single out the chaff from the good will go a long way to ensure sanity within darknet spaces.
By this, delinquent users, for example, will shun from joining targeted illicit sites that aim to propagate online crime.
At the same time, the law-abiding internet cognoscenti will enjoy the freedom of information and achieve desired online privacy.
In the end, governments will have stuck to their ends of the bargain to uphold freedoms of their citizens, while in turn protecting online citizens from internet-borne vices.
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