Governing the Ungovernable: a Dark Web tale


We are in an age where we can connect with anyone across the world so easily via Facebook or Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat.  We can load bank details onto our phones and pay for items just by waving our mobiles.  We are able to live our lives without even stepping foot outside our home, no need to drive to the grocery store to get our food anymore.  Hell, even Maccas deliver now.  But in this age of digital advancement and constant internet browsing, a darker side to the net lurks.  

Not only can we order the next Kim Kardashian selfie book online and have it downloading to our e-reader as soon as it’s released, we can order any illicit item, having it delivered straight to our door.  This dark side of the internet is without law, with no moral code to guide what to sell or what not to sell, what to post and what not to post.  So how, then, do we govern the crooks behind sites such as Silk Road or UGotPosted?  How do we create a sentence for something that’s gone ungoverned for so long? 

"...there’s no explicit mention of the fact he uploaded thousands of photos of women against their will to his website." 

Silk Road has become unanimous with talk about the ‘Dark Web’.  It became famous around the world allowing people to sell and order drugs from the comfort of their own home.  No more dealing in side alleys behind nightclubs, no more nervously driving to your weird dealer’s house and needing to make awkward chit chat.  But it wasn’t just drugs Silk Road marketed.  It was the eBay for dealers of all goods, whether your fix was drugs, weapons, child pornography or maybe you wanted to order a hit on your neighbour?  Silk Road operator Ross Ulbricht was sentenced to life in prison late last month.  The 31 year old physics graduate will spend his life in prison without the chance for parole, a sentence suited for the top tier drug dealers on the streets.  Even though Ulbricht never physically sold any drugs from Silk Road, he provided the marketplace to do so which was enough to warrant him life in prison.  

This raises the question, don’t you feel that being sentenced the same as a hardened mob kingpin is too 1980s?  It could be argued that his charges don’t exactly match his wrong doing.  In this time of technological advancement, where everyone is connected to some form of network 24/7, and the malicious Dark Web is looming in the background shouldn’t we have charges that correspond?  Ulbricht sat at his computer and created an illegal marketplace, which was labelled as an ‘ongoing criminal enterprise’, yet has been charged for selling drugs and money laundering among others.  He has been sentenced to life in prison, which may seem reasonable to the everyday onlooker who gets their news from Sunrise and the Today Show, but the punishment needs to fit the crime.  For that to happen, current legislation needs to adapt so that cyber criminals are charged for the crimes they commit, not something that’s only 'kind of' the same. 

In April, Kevin Bollaert, the creator behind the revenge porn site, was sentenced to 18 years in jail in what was deemed the first case of its kind in US criminal history.  Bollaert ran a site allowing users to upload explicit photos of their ex-partners without their consent, their full name, location, age and Facebook profile link required upon posting.  Bollaert ran a second site in conjunction,, for those pleading for their photos to be removed from UGotPosted, earning him $350 with each request to delete.  And it’s here that Bollaert was caught and charged with six counts of extortion and 21 counts of identity theft.  Though this is correct, there’s no explicit mention of the fact he uploaded thousands of photos of women against their will to his website.  No mention of governing the site that holds all of these photos either.  Just extortion and identity theft; a petty criminal.  It’s good to see these types of sites shut down and their administrators and creators sentenced, but the legislation does not match the time we are currently in.  Bollaert held people against their will all by a few clicks of a mouse.  The darker side of the web holds content that disobeys all morals and laws, so we need to fill the gap so that these sites can be governed and prosecuted correctly.

In light of the recent revenge porn shutdowns and pleas for the removal of personal images, Google has stated they will remove all revenge porn related images from their search engine.  If a user notices an explicit photo, Google will remove it immediately upon request.  To be honest, Google shouldn’t have personal images of people on their search engine in the first place, but their philosophy is to reflect the whole web.  And with current legislation, how can you govern the powerhouse that Google is?  But at least they are taking the right steps to honour the requests of those affected, even if it’s too late.  

But what next for the Dark Web and associated sites that go ungoverned?  There’s no way anyone can shut it down; it’s just a sliver of what the internet offers, just the same as you can’t stop every drug dealers on the streets.  What we need in place are a set of relevant rules that will help convict cyber criminals - convict them for establishing these underground online marketplaces or convict them for online ‘sextortion’.  We need to establish that Cybercrime isn’t the same as physical crime.  At least then we can try to govern the ungovernable.