Silk Road: Trial of alleged kingpin Ross Ulbricht – known as 'Dread Pirate Roberts' – set to expose deep web marketplace

Ross Ulbricht faces charges of narcotics trafficking, computer hacking and money laundering

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The Independent US

When Ross Ulbricht was arrested at a San Francisco-area library in October of 2013, online underground marketplace Silk Road went offline.

On Tuesday, Mr Ulbricht — who the US government alleges is the criminal mastermind behind Silk Road — will stand trial in a Manhattan courthouse for federal charges including narcotics trafficking, computer hacking and money laundering, according to a criminal complaint against him. If convicted, Mr Ulbricht could face life in prison.

The case likely will set important precedent about anonymity and surveillance on the internet, as it is the first case of its kind. Mr Ulbricht has pleaded not guilty to all charges and his defence team claims that the US government illegally obtained access to the Silk Road server.


Silk Road launched in 2011 as an underground online forum, but grew in the following two years into a marketplace where users anonymously could buy anything from falsified identification documents to drugs to guns. It’s been estimated that the site made $80m (£53m) prior to going offline.

The complaint claims that MrUlbricht was able to keep Silk Road anonymous by running the site on the Tor network, which is “designed to make it practically impossible to physically locate the computers hosting or accessing websites on the network”.

Silk Road also required payment for goods and services in the form of Bitcoins, the controversial electronic currency that allows for anonymous transactions, much like cash.

Federal prosecutors allege that Mr Ulbricht operated Silk Road under the pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts, in a nod to the film Princess Bride. During the trial, prosecutors will set out to prove that Mr Ulbricht was the “kingpin” of the operation, using a term more commonly thrown around with mafiosi.

The Daily Dot obtained and published a 250-item list of the evidence the prosecution will use against Mr Ulbricht, including drugs seized from dealers who operated on Silk Road and screen-shots taken from both the private and public sides of the marketplace.

According to a report from Wired, the defence will bring up United States versus Vayner, in which the court ruled last year that some social media screenshots are inadmissible evidence because they can be faked. The defence is expected to challenge each screenshot as it comes up in the trial.

Mr Ulbricht’s trial brings to the surface questions of Internet freedom and the legitimacy of the deep web, a massive portion of the Internet that isn’t indexed by traditional search engines, which is where Silk Road operated.


Activist Julia Tourianksi posted a video on YouTube urging people to come out to the courthouse to protest the trial and voice their support for Internet freedom.


“If Ross is convicted, the internet will become a place of fear and we will be at the whim of state power,” she said. before giving the time and place for protesters to meet outside the courthouse. “Don’t pretend to care. Bring your signs.”