Imagine going to a website, purchasing any kind of illicit drug and having it shipped to your door, completely anonymously and safely. Such a website exists, though it is hidden to most web browsers and requires some technical savvy to access. Once there, users cannot simply purchase these items with any currency denominated by a government; rather, visitors must come laden with bitcoins, a virtual peer to peer currency that varies in value and is accepted as the preferred medium of exchange for the Silk Road. Bitcoins act in the virtual world in the same way as cash in the real world. Wired’s article discussing this deep web site details users’ experiences purchasing LSD, ecstasy, and marijuana. What you will not find on the Silk Road is anything that could be used to make a WMD or any other kind of weapon.
Taking its name from the ancient trading route that traced itself from the Red Sea through East Africa, India, China, and Southeast Asia, transporting goods and funneling people all across the known ancient world and romanticized in literature with Ali Baba and the One Thousand and One Nights. The main draw of the site appears to be access to a wide variety of drugs, anonymously, which are sent via USPS to your front door. Many people wonder how such a system works anonymously and how it is not some shadowy internet scam. The system employs a reputation ranking and feedback profile akin to those found on Amazon.com and Ebay. The Silk Road concept is a cyberpunk’s dream come true and represents a living embodiment of sci-fi dreams of a world disconnected from states and organizations and exists underneath the facade.
Advocates of bitcoins and also of websites like the Silk Road highlight the anonymity of it all as a main draw and, indeed, in an ever increasingly interconnected world anonymity may become the most cherished commodity of all. This world of anonymous internet drug trafficking has not escaped the attentions of Senator Charles Schumer and Joseph Manchin who have both requested the DEA shut the site down. NPR even had a wonderfully informative article on the site and called it the “Amazon.com of illegal drugs.” With the prevalence and ubiquity of the internet in our lives, it is only a matter of time before unregulated and hidden internet markets spring up and is likely a trend that will only grow in the future.