Silk Road Busted By Feds, Founder Arrested

From Reuters:

“U.S. law enforcement authorities have shut down “Silk Road,” an anonymous Internet marketplace for illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine and criminal activities such as murder for hire, and arrested its alleged owner.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Wednesday it arrested Silk Road owner, Ross William Ulbricht, 29, known online as “Dread Pirate Roberts,” in San Francisco on Tuesday, according to court filings. Ulbricht, who holds an advanced degree in chemical engineering, appeared in federal court on Wednesday and a bail hearing was set for Friday.

His lawyer Brandon LeBlanc, a public defender, declined to comment.”

Silk Road has been around since 2011 and over the past few years it became the most popular black market website on Tor. What is Tor? It is a network of users and servers that provides (almost) total anonymity for those involved. Through the use of multiple layers of encryption and by relaying traffic through thousands of nodes, it makes it next to impossible to trace the data back to the source.

Because of this anonymity,  the Tor Network has become a sort of Wild West of the internet. You can find everything and anything there, legal or illegal. The are sites that sell drugs, sites that sell weapons, and even sites where one can indulge in the darkest sexual fantasies imaginable. Like Mos Eisley, Tor is a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Now that’s not to say that there aren’t legitimate uses for the network (it’s popular among political dissidents under repressive regimes.) But all in all, it’s not a place to take the kids.

Due to the near impossibility of tracing someone using the network, Tor users engaging in illicit activities are usually caught because they’ve made some dumb mistake along the way. Because even with programs like Tor that are in theory foolproof, the weakest link in the security chain remains the human being.

It’s safe to say that in a matter of weeks a new site will take Silk Road’s place in the digital black market. This one raid does not change the fact that there are people who want drugs and people who want to sell drugs, and that they will always find a way to get together to do business. But when it comes to maintaining a low profile, sites like the Silk Road that are doing more than a billion dollars in drug deals while openly flaunting their existence are almost asking to get busted. The credibility of law enforcement everywhere is called into question when sites like these are allowed to operate with impunity. And from the government’s point of view, that cannot be allowed.

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Helplessness and Indifference in the Windy City: No Such Thing as a Safe Passage

Noah Berlatsky has an interesting in the Atlantic about how crime and segregation go hand in hand on the streets of Chicago. He writes

“Segregation is so ingrained, and so much taken for granted, that people, or at least white people, don’t even notice it. A couple months ago, for example, Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn wrote an editorial in which he argued that, based on murders by population, Chicago isn’t actually all that violent a city. And he’s sort of right. Chicago can be thought of as a bunch of different cities, and some of them are quite safe. Unfortunately, some of them aren’t. And a lot of effort goes into making sure that the folks who have to live in the less safe parts of Chicago don’t trouble the sleep of the folks in the safe areas.”

Coming from the New York suburbs, I found this one of the more unsettling aspects of Chicago life. I know New York City is fairly segregated when it comes to housing, but the high population density (NYC is almost 2.5x as dense) means that different races still interact on a daily basis. But in Chicago you can live on the North Side, take the Metra to the Loop for work, and then take it back in the evening all the while remaining in a bubble of whiteness. But on the South Side, you get a vastly different perspective on the city.

One of the best points that Berlatsky brings up is the fact that Chicago is more like a conglomeration of smaller cities rather than one big one. I became acutely aware of this balkanization a few years ago when I first moved to the city.  The U of C is located in Hyde Park on the South Side and is, as a student told me during orientation, “an ivory tower in a sea of ebony.” And it just so happened that my first real introduction to the city involved me getting punched out on the 55 bus heading back from the Garfield Red Line stop the day before classes even started. Suffice it to say, I didn’t exactly develop the best impression of the Windy City. So afterwards when I heard other people tell me how Chicago is such a great place, I couldn’t help but think: “Are we talking about the same city?” Of course, over the past three years my opinion of the city is a great deal more nuanced. But as someone who is still between an outsider and a local, I am still unsettled by the gap the separates the heart of the city from its underbelly.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any easy answers for anyone. The city is strapped for cash and facing a massive pension crisis that will probably force either major tax increases or dramatic cuts in service. The university, while flush with cash, is focused on making Hyde Park a better place for its students and not necessarily anyone else. And while community leaders and activists have been shouting about this problem for years, they don’t seem to have much to show for it.

To borrow a phrase from the movies:

“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chicago.”