Analysis: Why Is It Hard to Police the Dark Web?

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Handcuffs on a lap top.
There are unique obstacles to policing the dark web, despite the innovation of law enforcement agencies worldwide.

When people describe the dark web as “the dark web,” there are obvious connotations of crime.

It might be easy to envision an underground criminal marketplace, and the fact that actual online black markets such as the notorious Silk Road are often the first associations that individuals have with the dark web certainly doesn’t help.

However, this begs the obvious question—if there is so much “darkness” on the dark web, why doesn’t it come to the light?

There are some obvious reasons that many might put forward, but it’s a valid question.

In a world where one of the largest tech companies in the world is selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement, and there are actual Ted Talks about how law enforcement is becoming more militarized—one has to wonder about the dark web.

Why is law enforcement not constantly exploring and mining a part of the internet where there might be criminals either offering or selling their services?

Your TOR usage is being watched

If they are policing it, why don’t we hear more about it? Also, if, for various reasons, the dark web is harder to police, why is that the case?

Threats Not so Immediate

When we think about the role that law enforcement plays in society, we think about the fact that there are criminals out there who are actively looking to harm others.

It goes without saying that our mind might immediately take us to the worst possible individuals that could do the most harm to those who might need the most protection—such as the mugger who robs the elderly, or a predator who preys on children.

We might consider the horrific acts of rape or murder as incidents that can plague a community for years, and even decades.

Of course, there are all sorts of crimes. However, the crimes that take place on the dark web are often of a much different nature.

You may have mistakenly left your credit card at a bar or nightclub before, only to find out that someone used your card and your money to purchase something.

Hacker surfing through the dark web.
When people describe the dark web as “the dark web,” there are obvious connotations of crime.

While this might be unethical, many of us may react the same way.

We might understand that this was someone who saw an opportunity and contact the credit card company to square away the situation.

In this manner, unlike a break-in, for example, the crime isn’t “personal,” and the threat isn’t “immediate”—it involves a card that can be invalidated with a phone call.

No one confronted you for the credit card, intimidated you for it or threatened you—it was simply a situation that took place.

Often times, many of the crimes on the dark web involve the leaking of information.

In a world where there are cameras everywhere, we tend to take our privacy a lot less seriously.

Of course, this isn’t to say that there aren’t many individuals that don’t value privacy; there are many, and many of them might even use the dark web for that very reason.

However, in the modern world, where social media platforms like Facebook, which has billions of active users, are experiencing data breaches, and smart devices are recording our conversations, how private are citizens today?

The truth is that while the dark web often involves credit card information or other sensitive information for sale, the everyday individual might take steps to prevent it from happening again, but not think twice about it.

On some level, the way an individual feels about a crime can affect its outcome.

For example, there might be victims of domestic violence who have been threatened by their partner into testifying that the individual actually did not commit the violence they’re accused of.

In this manner, the investigation can then be completely derailed.

The point is this: while we all value our privacy to some extent, we all also know that our information is “out there.”

As a result, much of the crime taking place on the dark web isn’t even an issue that the victim pursues.

Access granted.
You may have mistakenly left your credit card at a bar or nightclub before, only to find out that someone used your card and your money to purchase something.

Every day, there is a new viral video that often leads to an embarrassing scandal, where an individual is doxxed and harassed.

In this manner, the dark web might be hard to police because individuals do not care about information leaking—it might not be that important to them; and if it’s not important to the victims, law enforcement might not feel pressured to enforce, especially when it isn’t even reported.

Rate of Innovation: Law Enforcement vs. Criminals

The issue with technology is that law enforcement and criminals are constantly in a race. It doesn’t matter what kind of crime you are considering—the fact is that as quickly as law enforcement develops methods to go after criminals, criminals respond by coming up with alternative methods.

This issue is increased when it comes to the internet and the dark web, because cybercriminals are often considered some of the most intelligent and adaptable criminals in the world.

A great example was in 2014 when researchers claimed that you didn’t need the resources of a government agency to identify Tor users.

The researchers were set to present their results at Carnegie Mellon University, but the presentation was cancelled, and what happened next?

You might have guessed it: The Tor development team went straight to work on fixing a bug that supposedly made identification easier.

The point is that when there is innovation for law enforcement, it usually means that the criminals have realized it, and will work to find a solution in order to stay a step ahead of law enforcement.

For those who might be interested in a more recent example, the cryptocurrency world also presents a recent case study with regards to privacy.

Dark Web News recently reported that Monero is being used by more cybercriminals because of increased privacy, and that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was now interested in discovering how to track these coins.

In this way, the race continues—law enforcement attempts to keep up with criminals, who are constantly trying to outsmart law enforcement.

Jurisdiction a Hindrance

Cyber law on a laptop screen.
If a hacker from a country hacks into the funds of a company of another country, but the countries currently don’t have a positive relationship, what can be done?

One of the great things about the internet is that it has allowed people around the world to connect with each other—but if you think about this from a law enforcement perspective, it’s a bureaucratic nightmare.

Every country and government has its own relationship with the other countries in the world, which is affected by all sorts of sociopolitical factors.

If a hacker from a country hacks into the funds of a company of another country, but the countries currently don’t have a positive relationship, what can be done?

We already understand that countries like China and Russia are not necessarily eager to cater to American law enforcement with regards to all sorts of crimes.

When the perpetrator doesn’t even live or isn’t even present in the same area as the victim, there are all sorts of different laws and rules regarding situations such as this.

This doesn’t even bring into question the issue of different laws in different countries. For example, there might be a country that believes that adult content is illegal, or that certain websites should be censored.

If a hacker does use his skills in order to access this material within that jurisdiction, how should law enforcement view it? How does that work?

The truth is that there are so many moving parts and variables to the way that law is enforced in different regions that it can be very hard to enforce and prosecute.

It’s Not All Illegal

There is this idea that if the dark web is so bad, why aren’t police doing everything they can to stop it?

Well, the truth is a little more complex than that. It’s not as if all of the dark web is an evil place where criminals convene in order to plot out physical attacks, extortion or identity theft schemes.

There is definitely a certain percentage of individuals who use the Tor browser because they value their privacy, for example.

This certainly does not mean that these individuals have anything to hide. While it is an unfortunate truth that there are child molesters that attempt to hide on the dark web, that doesn’t mean that one can draw a conclusion that everyone on the dark web is a child molester.

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden famously stated in a Reddit AMA that when people brush off their rights to privacy by saying they have “nothing to hide,” they’re essentially saying that they aren’t concerned about free speech because they have nothing to say.

There are many who have pointed out that the public perception of the dark web is not always accurate.

Darknet written in silver.
There are many who have pointed out that the public perception of the dark web is not always accurate.

While it would obviously be convenient for all criminals to be in one place, this isn’t true.

The same who claim that there are child molesters and terrorists existing on the dark web seem to miss an obvious point: these criminals exist outside of the dark web, as well.

There are still websites where criminals can network on the actual surface web, and monitoring these websites can often be a lot easier in terms of time and resources than enforcing crime on the dark web.

Conclusion

We know that law enforcement does not simply “not police” the dark web. There are clearly agencies dedicated to making sure that dark web criminals are caught, and this might also involve other agencies, as well.

For example, in late 2017, Australian police even operated a child abuse site for a long time, all in order to bait criminals to ultimately take them down in a sting operation.

There are also many drug rings that operate on the dark web that are taken down every day, all around the world.

However, there is no denying that the dark web is more difficult to police, for many reasons that have been stated.

Often times, there are much more resources required to investigate dark web crime, and it also might be much harder to prosecute, which are big blows to investigations.

For other crimes, the fact that the victims don’t report them is an obvious hurdle.

Of course, time will tell how both law enforcement and criminals will adapt to the situation, and whether the dark web will be policed more extensively in the future.

Jay Carter

Jay Carter focuses on technology, business, and cryptocurrency. He is interested in how the dark web can be a force for good, and how technology will shape our future overall.
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