Silk Road, quite literally the Amazon of mind-altering drugs, was recently shutdown after a stupid mistake that got its owner caught (and it gets weirder). But, asks Conor Friedersfdorf, did shutting down Silk Road actually make the world a more dangerous place?
But for all of the DOJ details that, if accurate, make The Silk Road an indefensible enterprise, I cant help but conclude, after reading the complaint, that the world is actually going to be a more dangerous place in the absence of the online marketplace. If its facts are correct, the FBI wasnt wrong to shut down the site, where people were allegedly hired to make hits and break into the computers of innocents**. Good riddance to that. For the vast majority of sellers and purchasers, however, The Silk Road was a marketplace for illegal narcotics, and a strong case can be made that it facilitated a significantly less damaging drug trade than what existed before it. If that's so, the implication isnt that The Silk Road should be restarted, but that we'd be better off with a sanctioned online narcotics trade.
At its most basic level, The Silk Road served as a middleman that earned a reputation for trust among buyers and sellers. I never accessed the site when it was online. But my conversations with journalists and programmers who explored its listings square with the basic explanation in the FBI's criminal complaint: buyers had to fund their Silk Road accounts with Bitcoins, an anonymous digital currency; upon making a purchase, the necessary funds would be held in escrow by The Silk Road; once the transaction was complete, funds were transferred; and various measures were taken to protect the anonymity of all parties involved. Buyers could also review the products offered by sellers.
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