Sen. Feinstein Takes Aim at the Dark Web, Teases Regulations
The Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat discussed possible legislation Wednesday targeting sites on the "dark web," the non-indexed and difficult to monitor portion of the internet infamously used to host illegal online marketplaces including the former Silk Road and AlphaBay bazaars.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California took aim at illegal dark web sites during the second half of a five-hour-long oversight hearing Wednesday with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Citing a recent New York Times report, Ms. Feinstein raised concerns before the attorney general about "the use of the dark web by drug traffickers and other criminal enterprises to secretly do business with users."
"It seems to me that the problem of the dark web being used by criminals is going to grow in the coming years. Do you have any plans to address it, or would you begin to think about it so that we might have some conversations on this, because I think there's a lot of concern out there in law enforcement communities about the dark web being used to commit crime," Ms. Feinstein asked Mr. Sessions.
"I would be pleased to do so," Mr. Sessions replied. "We are very concerned about that. The FBI is very concerned abut [sic] that. And they did take down, I think, the two biggest dark websites. This last one, AlphaBay, we took down recently. They had 240,000 sites where individuals were selling for the most part illegal substances or guns on that site, including fentanyl, and they use bitcoins and other untraceable financial capabilities, and it is a big problem."
The senator isn't eyeing any specific legislation involving the dark web at this moment but said it's something she's looking into.
"I'd like to work with you on it if it requires legislation in particular," Ms. Feinstein told the attorney general.
Using specialized software, such as the Tor browser, internet users can navigate the dark web without leading an obvious set of digital footprints, fueling underground marketplaces like AlphaBay where visitors can buy and sold contraband with apparent anonymity using bitcoin and other forms of digital cryptocurrency.
Not all sites on the dark web are illicit, however, and the same technology also enables internet users in countries with repressive laws to access otherwise censored web content. ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization, for example, maintains a "dark web" site so visitors can views its content without leaving behind potentially identifiable metadata, and WikiLeaks advises potential whistleblowers to leak secrets through a submission platform hosted on the dark web.
A former staff member of AlphaBay, the dark web marketplace cited by the attorney general Wednesday, claimed the web site facilitated more than 40,000 illegal vendors prior to being shuttered by the Department of Justice in July, Mr. Sessions said previously.
AlphaBay generated twice as much revenue as Silk Road, a similarly designed dark web marketplace seized by the Department of Justice in 2013, according to Mr. Sessions, and the government's action in July constituted "the largest dark net marketplace takedown in history."
"But the Department's work is not finished," Mr. Sessions previously said while announcing the AlphaBay seizure. "We will continue to find, arrest, prosecute, convict and incarcerate criminals, drug traffickers and their enablers, wherever they are. The dark net is not a place to hide. We will use every tool we have to stop criminals from exploiting vulnerable people and sending so many Americans to an early grave."
Ross Ulbricht, the convicted administrator of Silk Road, is currently serving life imprisonment for related charges. Alexandre Cazes, a Canadian man accused of operating AlphaBay, was taken into custody in Thailand in connection with a U.S. arrest warrant this past July but hung himself while awaiting extradition, according to Bangkok police.
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