US Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) has called for a crackdown on the dark web following reports that illicit marketplaces are thriving even after the government shutdown of Silk Road.
In an open letter addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder and published by Schumer’s office on 27th October, the senator pledged to both secure additional funding for anti-dark web activities and continue pressing for increased oversight of technologies that facilitate such activities. The letter cited the Tor network and bitcoin as mechanisms used by criminals to help conceal the global drug trade.
In a statement, Schumer said that he expects the US Justice Department to step up its fight against illicit drug trades, emphasizing the need for more funds to be pledged to the effort:
“I look forward to a Department of Justice review of their protocols, and will fight to increase their funding for this purpose, so that these officials do not have one hand tied behind their back in the evolving world of these online drug bazaars.”
The senior senator from New York has sent mixed messages to date to the digital currency industry. For example, Schumer has voiced opposition to bitcoin, once calling the technology a tool for money launderers. Yet nearly a year ago, the senator said on Twitter that the technology held promise ahead of a then-upcoming hearing on digital currency.
CoinDesk reached out to Schumer’s office for comment but did not receive an immediate reply.
Schumer makes case against dark web
In the letter, the US senator cited reports that encryption methods have enabled illicit marketplaces to function in the aftermath of the Silk Road shutdown. The number of sites that offer illicit drug purchasing and sales services has grown significantly in the past year, according to recent research.
Schumer blasted the dark web ecosystem and pressed for more action against its bad actors, arguing that law enforcement agencies both in the US and abroad aren’t doing enough to stop the perceived threat.
“These websites, by allowing users to rate the delivery services of sellers and by offering any drugs imaginable under the sun, are nothing less than an all-you-can order buffet of contraband that need to be investigated and targeted with more intensity.”
Schumer’s office said in its statement that the requested funding would go to hiring more cybercrime experts at the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as state-based agencies in New York. These funds would address what Schumer called a chronic staffing issue that he says further encourages would-be drug traffickers who frequent dark web marketplaces.
“Currently, there are not enough people to target these websites,” the office added.
Rise of drug markets could continue
Schumer’s letter did not outline steps beyond increased funding for combating the rise of dark web marketplaces. However, the senator acknowledged the complications involved in the process of investigating drug-related cybercrime, and conceded that federal officials lack many of the resources needed to address the ecosystem effectively.
According to James Martin, senior lecturer and researcher at the Macquarie University Centre for Policing, Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism, the rise in dark web marketplaces reflects a pattern seen among general technological growth.
Speaking to CoinDesk, Martin commented that it’s possible that more marketplaces will emerge as new ones are taken down by federal authorities, concluding:
“There are compelling reasons to speculate that the online drugs trade is going to expand further in years to come.”