The FBI, working in conjunction with its European partners, has struck another blow against darknet markets (DNMs). On this occasion, it’s a particularly low blow, as news website Deepdotweb has become the latest victim of its interminable war on drugs. On May 7, both its clearnet and darknet domains were seized, and the operators arrested and slapped with money laundering charges.
The War on Drugs Becomes the War on Information
Not content with waging a war on drugs, law enforcement (LE) have set their sights on media platforms that report on darknet activity. Earlier today, Deepdotweb became inaccessible, its homepage replaced by a seizure notice that’s become all too familiar to darknet market users. The shutdown generated shockwaves that have resonated way beyond the darknet community, marking the first time that feds have targeted the press in this manner. Deepdotweb (DDW) was by far the most popular clearnet resource for accessing links to DNMs, following the closure of subreddit r/darknetmarkets last year.
Two Israeli suspects were arrested in connection with the bust, as well as individuals from France, Germany, Holland, and Brazil. The arrests were the result of two months of investigation, and arrive within days of the ringleaders of Wall Street Market (WSM) being arrested in Germany, together with a WSM moderator from Brazil. Deepdotweb is reported to have made millions of dollars in BTC from referral links to DNMs. It is unclear, though, how this activity might constitute a crime, given that darknet markets are not in themselves illegal, and sell a variety of wares, some of which are perfectly legal.
The money laundering statute cited in the seizure notice on DDW –18 USC 1956(h) – suggests that LE has sought a roundabout way to shut down a site it believes to be complicit in spreading information that enables people to access darknet markets….