Despite last year’s high-profile takedowns of hidden illicit marketplaces Hansa and AlphaBay, the dark web drug trade continues to thrive. Almost as soon as one site is knocked offline, vendors are quickly able to migrate to surviving rivals or new challengers that have managed to stay one step ahead of global law enforcement authorities. Much as they have for decades now with the traditional illicit drug market, police forces around the world are fighting a losing battle to stem the availability of illegal substances online, as more drug users get wise to the added safety, convenience and heightened guarantee of quality that dark web vendors are perceived to offer. Clearly conscious of the fact they are on the back foot when it comes to blocking the new sales channels technology has opened up for drug dealers, western courts now appear bent on handing down draconian sentences to those caught running hidden illicit marketplaces or the vendors who use them as platforms from which to sell drugs.
In the absence of a regulated market, proponents of the dark web drug trade argue that buying illegal substances online has made drug consumption much less risky. Buying drugs online means users no longer have to purchase their substance of choice from criminals on street corners, reducing the chances they will be robbed or exposed to violence. Although they are open to abuse, eBay-style feedback systems run by dark web marketplaces offer buyers an opportunity to read the thoughts of dealers’ past customers. While increased competition among vendors has led to worries over the increasing strength of some substances being offered online, dark web drug dealers’ focus on reputation is generally accepted to have led to a rise in the quality of narcotics available on the internet. Dark web drug marketplaces also offer users the opportunity to discuss their substance consumption in forums, allowing them to exchange advice on how to take their drug of choice in as safe a manner as possible. But regardless of all this, those convicted of offences linked to the sale of drugs on hidden illicit marketplaces are in some cases being handed jail terms that most right-mined people would accept are wholly disproportionate to the nature of the crime they have committed, if only in relation to other types of offences at a similar level.
Last month, the leader of a UK dark web drug dealing gang was jailed for 15 years and three months after being convicted of selling illegal substances worth £800,000 ($1.14 million) on the now-closed Silk Road website. Associates of Basil Assaf, 26, were imprisoned for between seven and 12 years. Days earlier, three members of an Albanian drugs gang were sentenced to a total of 16 years between them by a London court after being convicted of trafficking cocaine estimated to be worth more than £4 million. Also in March, a paedophile Jehovah’s Witness was sentenced to 15 years behind bars for sexually abusing three young girls. In the US, Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht is serving a life jail term with no chance of parole, having been handed a sentence that the judge in his trial said was intended to serve as a deterrent to would-be online drug peddlers tempted to follow in his footsteps. Far from having the intended chilling effect on aspiring dark web narcotics barons the judge intended, a study published by the British Journal of Criminology last summer revealed that Ulbricht’s sentence appeared to have had no downward impact on dark web drug sales at all, and that the sale of narcotics on hidden illicit marketplaces had in fact more than doubled in the two years since his jailing.
Few would argue that dark web drug dealers should face no punishment at all if and when they are caught, but it seems unjust to condemn them to wildly disproportionate jail terms simply because law enforcement authorities are unable to get a grip on the manner in which they are revolutionising the drug trade. While it might be something of a stretch to suggest that those convicted of crimes linked to the sale of drugs online should receive some leniency for their part in making the trade in narcotics safer for users, it should certainly be the case that they face a punishment no more severe than offenders who have been found guilty of comparable or more serious charges. Even the most hard-headed of anti-drug campaigners must surely submit that a person offering a service that users avail themselves of freely should not be treated by our justice systems in a similar fashion to those who sexually exploit children, murder or commit acts of terrorism. The fact that dark web drug dealers are being treated so harshly is yet another sign of how spectacularly the war on drugs has failed.
Malaysian investigators uncover record haul of nearly 30 tonnes of pangolins at two illicit plants
Police in Malaysia have seized over 27 tonnes of pangolins and their body parts from traffickers running two illicit plants dedicated to the processing of the critically-endangered animal, according to wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.
Acting after receiving intelligence, investigators first raided one facility in the Sabah state capital of Kota Kinabalu on 7 February, before later swooping on a warehouse in Tamparuli, nearly 22 miles away from the city.
The massive haul, which is thought to be the largest ever recovered in the country, is estimated to have been worth some 8.4 million ringgit ($2 million) on the black market.
In an operation that exposed the role Sabah plays in the global illegal trade in pangolin parts, police involved in the raids recovered 1,800 boxes containing frozen pangolins, 572 individual frozen pangolins in six freezers, 61 live pangolins in cages and in the boot of a car, and 361kgs of pangolin scales.
Police also recovered two bear paws and the carcasses of four flying foxes.
A 35-year-old man, thought to be a manager of one of the sites, was arrested following the raids, Traffic said, citing police sources.
The anti-trafficking organisation said it hoped the raids would help lead investigators to the organised criminal syndicates behind both the domestic and international illicit trade in pangolin parts.
Pangolins, which are thought to be the most trafficked mammal on the planet, are estimated to make up around a fifth of the world’s illicit trade in wildlife.
The animals’ scales are in high demand in many Asian countries, where they are used in a range of traditional medicine, while their meat is considered a delicacy in China and other Asian nations.
Many people across Asia mistakenly believe that pangolin body parts contain properties that can cure a number of ailments ranging from hangovers to cancer, despite there being no evidence whatsoever that this is the case.
Commenting on the success of the operation, Traffic’s Southeast Asia Director Kanitha Krishnasamy said: “Detecting large volumes of pangolin smuggling is no easy feat and Sabah authorities are congratulated for pursuing and taking down this smuggling operation
“It is hoped that comprehensive investigations can lead to unmasking the syndicate and networks operating from the state and beyond.”
The raids come ahead of this Saturday’s World Pangolin Day, which is intended to raise awareness of how heavily the animal is trafficked.
Industry body unveils new effort to protect European advertisers from online pirated content
An anti-piracy group has announced a new initiative that is intended to help European brands protect themselves from being associated with pirated content.
Advertising industry organisation the Trustworthy Accountability Group (Tag) yesterday announced Project Brand Integrity, which is intended to alert companies and their advertising agencies when their marketing material has appeared alongside pirated material online.
The new initiative, which is modelled on a similar effort launched in the US that is said to have reduced the number of impressions linked to pirated content by more than 90% over two years, will be operated by Tag in partnership with advertising auditing firm White Bullet, which will monitor and document ads on infringing sites.
After scanning ad-supported infringing sites serving markets in Europe, White Bullet’s technology will identify any ads that appear alongside pirated content, before forwarding that information to Tag, which will contact the advertiser and/or its agency so they can take remedial action.
Mike Zaneis, CEO of Tag, commented: “If you are a brand advertiser, the skull-and-crossbones isn’t just a pirate movie trope. It accurately reflects the toxic danger of associating your brand with stolen content and criminal activities on pirate sites.
“Project Brand Integrity will serve as an early warning system for advertisers and their agencies, so we can alert them when their ads have run near stolen content and help them implement effective safeguards to prevent it from happening again.
“We are delighted to work with White Bullet to jointly enable this program, while advancing the European Commission’s important work in this area.”
The new project forms part of wider drive by major advertisers and their partners to ensure online marketing material does not appear alongside content that could damage brand reputation.
Over recent years, major brands including Unilever, Mars and Verizon have pulled their ads from major video streaming platforms such as YouTube over worries that they were appearing alongside child sexual abuse material, violent drill rap videos and content relating to religious extremism.
Puling its material from various platforms over fears its ads were being shown alongside inappropriate content featuring children in November 2017, Mars said: “We have taken the decision to immediately suspend all our online advertising on YouTube and Google globally.
“Until we have confidence that appropriate safeguards are in place, we will not advertise on YouTube and Google.”
YouTube and Google have since boosted their efforts to take down or demonetise inappropriate or questionable content through fear of alienating advertisers.
Romanian sex trafficking brothers who modified penises with metal balls to cause more pain to rape victims jailed for 108 years
Two Romanian brothers who trafficked vulnerable young women into Spain and forced them into prostitution have been jailed for a total of 108 years after a court heard they inserted metal balls into their penises in a bid to cause maximum pain to their rape victims.
Cristian and Sebastián Sandulache, who were said to have made as much as €11,000 ($12,448) a night by forcing their victims to sell sex, were sentenced to 55 and 53 years respectively by a Spanish court last month.
Despite the huge amount of money the brothers and their fellow gang members were able to rake in, their victims were paid only around €200 a fortnight after being told they must work off the debt they had built up travelling to Spain.
As well as modifying their penises to cause the women they trafficked as much pain as possible, prosecutors told the court the sadistic siblings sliced one woman’s arm off with a samurai sword, and forced others to eat euro banknotes when they failed to bring in enough money while prostituting themselves.
After forcing the women to wash down the notes with water, the brothers are said to have told them they would be made to eat coins should they fail to make sufficient money in the future.
The pair made victims sell their bodies at a brothel in the northwest town of Oviedo after luring them from their home country of Romania with false promises of well-paid legitimate work.
Once the women arrived in Spain, the brothers stripped them of their travel documents and mobile phones, before beating and raping them and forcing them to work as prostitutes.
While serving a previous prison sentence, the brothers sliced holes in their own penises and inserted metal balls into the holes as part of a bid to make sex more pleasurable for themselves and more painful for their partners, the court was told.
As well as being handed lengthy jail terms, the brothers were also ordered to pay their victims large amounts of compensation.
The pair’s lawyers said they both intend to appeal the length of their sentences, having initially denied all of the charges against them, maintaining that the women who accused them of wrongdoing were lying, and were only interested in extracting compensation from them.
If they had been convicted of all the charges they faced, the brothers could have been handed a total of 600 years behind bars.
- Daesh could emerge in a deadlier form after the fall of its so-called caliphate
- Malaysian investigators uncover record haul of nearly 30 tonnes of pangolins at two illicit plants
- Industry body unveils new effort to protect European advertisers from online pirated content
- Romanian sex trafficking brothers who modified penises with metal balls to cause more pain to rape victims jailed for 108 years
- Interpol, UNODC and WCO hold global conference on detecting illicit trafficking by air
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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