Trust te the crypto-drug markets

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Despite perceived novelty, drugs have bot online from the Internet&rsquo,s very beginnings. Anecdotal spil it may be, it is widely understood that the very very first transaction on ARPANET involved a petite amount of marihuana. Everzwijn since, cyberspace has provided fertile ground for all sorts of drug-related exchanges.

The appeal of the Internet for people who use drugs is overduidelijk. Faced with criminalisation, misinformation and stigma &ldquo,offline&rdquo,, the world-wide web can opoffering people who use drugs a space to interact te [relative] anonymity and safety. Online forums, such spil Erowid, have provided a toneelpodium for people to share practices and advice related to their drug use, fostering a sense of community that remains difficult to replicate “ter real life”.

Silk Road, however, wasgoed a spel changer. Launched te February 2011, the webpagina wasgoed the very first &ldquo,archetypical&rdquo, crypto-drug market i . This &ldquo,eBay for drugs&rdquo, combined sophisticated encryption, communications and trust technologies to opoffering a broad range of [mostly illicit] products and services to users around the world. Marihuana, LSD, MDMA and other managed substances were now just a click away&hellip, plus shipping & treating.

Spil it is often the case with drug-related developments te a setting of prohibition, the initial response from public authorities ranged from cluelessness, to politically expedient outrage, to repression. Less than three years into the Silk Road proef, and before the webpagina&rsquo,s influence on the market could be fully understood, the FBI shut it down. Its convicted mastermind, Ross Ulbricht, now serves a life sentence without parole te a federal prison ter Fresh York.

Mirroring the reality of &ldquo,physical&rdquo, markets, dismantling the Silk Road, and subsequent similar operations, have achieved anything but the intended effects. The original webpagina might no longer exist, but dozens more have bot created te its stead, with overall sales and reach continuing to grow at a gradual but unwavering tempo.

Despite the available evidence, the role of public authorities ter this evolving ecosystem resumes to go unchecked. The UNGASS Outcome Document urges Member States to &ldquo,strengthen law enforcement, criminal justice and legal responses, spil well spil international cooperation, to prevent and tegenstoot drug-related criminal activities using the Internet&rdquo, (Kunst. Five p). Spil if expecting different results from doing the same thing overheen and overheen again.

Te stark tegenstelling with a mainstream law enforcement discourse that perceives thesis online markets essentially spil &ldquo,a safe toevluchthaven for criminals&rdquo,, the burgeoning field of research on crypto-drug markets exposes a more nuanced landscape. An interdisciplinary research project on trust ter thesis markets by the Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO) ii , for example, can shed light on the short-sightedness of fundamentally repressive law enforcement interventions targeting crypto-drug markets.

Borrowing instruments from linguistics, ethnography and rekentuig science, the investigators have sifted through thousands of megabytes of messages from the now-defunct Silk Road[s] 1 and Two iii . The careful analysis of &ldquo,collocates&rdquo, iv has made it possible to produce a statistically meaningful snapshot of some of the prevailing discourses te thesis communications.

One zandstrand of the project, led by Professor Nuria Lorenzo-Dus, exposed that trust among users wasgoed largely mediated by the exchange of private practices and other forms of skill, spil well spil the provision of advice on how to reduce potential harmful effects of drug use. User-based harm reduction strategies have bot previously identified ter crypto-drug markets and offline communities v . However, by focusing on the punt of trust, the authors centre and highlight the social bonds underpinning this &ldquo,indigenous harm reduction&rdquo,. Public authorities should consider the opportuneness of law enforcement responses that might entail weakening thesis community strategies vi , favouring interventions that support the life and health of people who use drugs instead vii .

A 2nd project zandstrand, headed by Martin Horton-Eddison, provides further evidence on the unintended, albeit not unexpected, consequences of &ldquo,hard&rdquo, law enforcement interventions. Using the same methodology and sources, the explore suggests the takedown of Silk Road by the FBI acted spil a kicking off gun for technological innovation ter crypto-drug markets – resulting ter even more difficulties for law enforcement to target the dark nipt. Specifically, this research captures the emergence of collective concerns about the &ldquo,escrow&rdquo, system.

Escrow has bot an essential trait of crypto-drug markets, mitigating some of the numerous risks associated to online transactions. A number of thesis risks are related to the non-abidance by one of the parties to the terms of the sale/purchase. Te the absence of formal institutions to act spil arbiters, crypto-drug markets stepped ter to pack the gap, suggesting a service that holds the funds until the other parties (te this case the buyer and seller) both agree to release them. When Silk Road 1 wasgoed seized, the FBI expropriated $Trio.6million from the system. Instantly after Silk Road Two came to exist, users began to discuss ways to offset thesis potential losses. Intensified by major &ldquo,uitgang scams&rdquo,, thesis anxieties te the community seem to have led to the development of better alternatives, such spil decentralised and multi-signature escrow systems. Law enforcement act, te brief, made crypto-drug markets more resilient and possibly sustainable.

The insights from thesis studies strongly mirror certain realities of offline drug markets. The global drug control staatsbestel has a conspicuous track record of futile interventions that are not motivated, and ter fact come at the expense of the wellbeing of people who use drugs. Crypto-drug markets, which are often framed spil a threat ter international policy debates, might actually suggest an chance to provide remedial activity. Public authorities should rethink their engagement with thesis spaces, capitalising on the self-regulatory and harm reduction practices deployed by thesis communities to positively influence, support and empower people who use drugs on- and offline.

This blog postbode draws on material introduced at the Roundtable on Cyber-Trust ter Crypto-Drug Markets: Implications for Policy and Policing (London, 21 February 2017), organised by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) and the Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO), with support from the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and the Challenging Human Environments and Research Influence for a Sustainable and Healthy Digital Economy (CHERISH-DE) fund.


i Crypto-drug markets can be defined spil &ldquo,digital platforms that facilitate P2P trade of goods and services with the added features of recommendations systems and a reliance on cryptocurrencies such spil bitcoin. They utilize anonymizing Internet-routing technologies [. ] to conceal the physical-[world] identity and location of users and create and open network for such interactions&rdquo,.

ii Swansea University.

iii February 2011 – October 2013 and Nov. 2013 – November 2014, respectively.

iv Words that co-occur with statistical significance, denoting &ldquo,features of the gegevens that are both salient and peculiar&rdquo,. Di Cristofaro, M. & Horton-Eddison, M. (2017) Corpus Linguistics on the Silk Road(s): The Escrow Example, GDPO Situation Analysis.

vii See, for example: Caudevilla, F. The Emergence of Deep Web Marketplaces: A Health Perspective. The Internet and Drugs Market (European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction). Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2016.

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      • International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS)
      • International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC)
      • Global Drug Policy Observatory (GDPO)
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