The Silk Road: The Darknet as a Dark Parallel World?

Almost like a shadowy world, there is a dubious parallel universe next to the freely accessible World Wide Web: we are talking about Darknet, which has a reputation as a breeding ground for crime. But is using the “dark side of the Internet” always illegal? How do the law enforcement authorities behave? The following text provides an overview. – Jenna Eatough

Definitions: From Darknet to Deep Web

From the illegal drug trade to human trafficking and contract killing: in Darknet, criminal machinations meet supply and demand. Despite the alleged causal connection created by the media that the Darknet can only be seen in connection with illegal files, the existence of this digital underworld is not illegal in itself. Large parts of the “regular Internet” (also called “Clear Web”) can also be assigned to it – all pages that are not marked with a “crawler” are technically to be defined as “belonging to the parallel world”. Pages that are not marked in this way therefore belong to the Darknet. In order to clearly differentiate from illegal content, the term “deep web” is used in this context. Despite the plausibility of the assumption that pages can be found via search engines, certain options can hide them from regular users.

A crawler is a program that searches the web for web pages and marks all content that can be found there. This serves the corresponding findability by search engines. However, a single command on a page is enough to prevent the crawler from using the corresponding address.

Anonymity: Encrypted communication

The probably most essential attribute of the Darknet is that of anonymity, i.e. an encrypted communication. With the normal WWW the connections between computers and corresponding target websites are created fully automatically; in this way the respective data is exchanged. In many cases, the connections are subject to such encryption that only the sender and recipient can communicate in plain text; the provider cannot read along. Nevertheless, the parties involved in this connection are known, so that the perpetrators of crimes committed on the Clear Web can be held responsible (a hotly debated topic among data protectors). In Darknet, however, there is not only a connection between the Internet provider and the target. Therefore, a specific browser or a special browser setting is required at the beginning. Only in this way can the computer become part of a multi-layered network. The special browser takes over the cryptographic activities. It should be noted that the search engines of the Clear Web are unable to find the pages of the Darknet. The sometimes best-known search engine of the digital underground can be seen in Grams, a hidden service modelled on Google.

The searchability of the pages is associated with efforts anyway, as is the search for the operator. In the light of anonymisation and concealment of the respective origin, the Darknet can therefore be described as secure. However, this cannot be transferred to the areas of legal and data protection.

Pay anonymously: Legally permissible?
In the Clear Web, the following applies: anyone who conducts and pays for transactions online makes it possible to trace their person, because bank cards and the like can be clearly assigned. Crypto currencies provide a remedy here. The Bitcoin is regarded as the first digital means of payment that does not receive any state support – instead it embodies a decentralised payment system, completely detached from instructions from the banks. This also makes tracking much more difficult than is the case with conventional payment transactions. However, Bitcoin’s administration requires special software – a Bitcoin Wallet.

The euro is the unrestricted legal currency for the fulfilment of obligations on German soil. However, the legislator does not explicitly prohibit alternative currencies either: Instead, it should be sufficient for two persons to reach a consensual agreement on debt settlement by means of a freely selectable means of payment. Up to now, the various Bitcoin wallets, which were initially subject to serious discontinuities, have been noted by the banks rather amused. Today, however, Bitcoin is securing a solid position for itself within the world of means of payment. According to the Federal Office for Financial Services Supervision (BaFin), it is regarded as a unit of account and a financial instrument within the meaning of the German Banking Act. One could criticize one with it verbund