“I’d rather never have been exposed to the ‘dark web’ and now it’s too late to regret it.” The 30-year-old Hainan man He Shi (pseudonym) got the court’s verdict in Hai’an City Detention Center in Jiangsu Province. In July last year, he was caught by Jiangsu police for drug trafficking and later sentenced to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
In an interview, He Shi said it was the “dark web” that allowed him to break through the moral threshold.
“Darknet” refers to a hidden network that ordinary Internet users cannot access through conventional search and requires the use of some specific software, configuration or authorization to log in. Because of the anonymity and other characteristics of the “darknet”, it is easy to breed all kinds of illegal crimes using the network as a tool for linkage, and some young people are deeply involved. China Youth Daily – A search of China Youth Net’s online referees revealed a total of 21 cases involving the “dark web”, involving criminal acts such as drug trafficking, dissemination of pornographic and illegal terrorist information, and infringement of citizens’ personal information.
It is noteworthy that, with the increasing number of people accessing the “dark web” in the country, there is a growing group of young people, even minors, involved. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of lawless elements using the “darknet” to commit illegal crimes, and the public security organs have continued to study the problem of “darknet” related crimes to strengthen their efforts to combat “darknet” crimes, and have urged the relevant units to strengthen network security protection and plug the hidden security risks at the source.
“Although the ‘dark web’ has characteristics such as anonymity and secrecy, the ‘dark web’ is not a ‘place outside the law’ or a ‘haven’ for crime.” Wang Yingwei, director of the Cyber Security and Protection Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security, said at a press conference recently.
Bitcoin is used to buy drugs on the “dark web” and sell them domestically at high prices.
Around 2014, He Shi liked to soak in foreign website forums, and inadvertently learned about the “dark web”. He is a professional in network maintenance and is curious about it. Through a series of operations, he saw a networked world that was vastly different from normal cognition.
“The gun trade, the drug trade, the organ trade, the bloody videos…though the real and the fake are unknown, the evil of humanity is on display.” It’s a cyber world of high freedom, where extreme things and not-so-extreme things co-exist, says Ho. He initially just skimmed through something new on it and never thought to use it for anything else.
Later, when he read foreign novels and noticed a celebrity author mentioning the hallucinogenic drug LSD as giving them endless inspiration, “I especially wondered what it would be like.” Ho Sai said.
LSD, whose scientific name is “ergot diethylamide”, is a strong semi-artificial hallucinogen. Despite exposure to propaganda that drugs are harmful, He Shi sees in these books the magic of “creating technological advancement”. “It subverted my perception of drugs.”
He wanted to start with LSD, and in 2018, he contacted a Polish man through the “dark web”, paid in bitcoin, and bought more than 200 drug “stamps” with LSD as the main ingredient, which cost $30 each.
“Mis-colored, time and space reversed, as if experiencing several lives and spending three lifetimes.” In an interview with China Youth Daily – China Youth Network, He Shi described the feeling of taking “stamps”, which he believes is non-addictive and harmless.
He Shi realized that there was a big market for “stamps” in China. Soon after, he quit his real estate sales job and contacted overseas sellers on the dark web to buy “stamps”, contacted domestic buyers through WeChat and the Internet, and sold the “stamps” he received for RMB 160 to RMB 200 per sticker.
The “dark web” becomes a breeding ground for crime
China Youth Daily – China Youth Net reporter entered the keyword “dark net” in the Chinese refereeing paper network, a total of 21 cases were searched. There were eight cases of smuggling, trafficking, transport and manufacture of drugs, seven cases of infringement of citizens’ personal information, three cases of illegal possession of articles promoting terrorism and extremism, and one case of each of the other three categories, namely, kidnapping, sabotage of computer information systems, and making, copying, publishing, trafficking and disseminating obscene articles for profit.
September 2018, Jiangxi Province, Pingxiang City, Anyuan District People’s Court publicly announced the first case of infringement of citizens’ personal information in Pingxiang, the defendant through the “dark net” to buy citizens’ credit card information, then tied to the mobile phone payment, stolen credit card to obtain illegal benefits. The court sentenced the two defendants to prison terms and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for violating citizens’ personal information.
In June this year, the Luoping County People’s Court in Yunnan Province also announced a case of using the “dark web” to violate citizens’ personal information. The Defendants posted on overseas websites, indicating the services and prices of providing personal information of citizens such as individual household registration, family household registration, room opening record, record of living together, etc., and traded in bitcoin on the “darknet” market, illegally obtaining and selling more than 1,000 pieces of personal information of multiple people between April and November 2018, making a profit of 1.33315 bitcoins, and exchanging 1.30948 bitcoins into RMB 41397.35.
The verdict shows that the defendant, after claiming that he was deceived in his job search, developed the idea of “making money by providing personal information online”. Most of the information he sold was sent to each other through the Chinese forum network, the dark goods market, and partly through social software. The information is mainly the trajectory of people, room opening records, mobile phone account information, etc., of which, the highest price is the mobile phone location information, the lowest is the household registration information.
In addition, obscene and thuggish videos on the dark web are more common. A case decided by the People’s Court of Pingyi County, Shandong Province, showed that the defendant learned about and downloaded, exchanged and obtained obscene and violent video files through the “dark web” and distributed them to three people for profit.
According to a cybertechnology practitioner, the “dark web” has quickly become a new avenue for criminals to engage in criminal activities after 2004, due to the anonymity of access, the encryption of information and the hidden nature of servers. In addition to the illegal trade in prohibited goods, illegal information on pornography, kidnapping, assassination and terrorism is so abundant that it has become an important platform for the activities of terrorist organizations.
The “dark web” is not an illegal place.
Public information shows that on April 30 this year, the largest “darknet” market, the “dream market” announced its closure. On the same day, law enforcement agencies from Europe, Canada and the United States launched operations and announced that international law enforcement agencies had arrested 61 people, closed 50 dark network accounts used for illegal activities, executed 65 search warrants and seized 2,995 kilograms of drugs, 51 firearms and over 62 million euros.
According to public information, so far this year, the national public security organs have opened 16 cases related to “darknet” and arrested 25 criminal suspects engaged in illegal and criminal activities related to “darknet”, of which 2 have been sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment and 23 to criminal detention.
As the number of people accessing the “dark web” in the country continues to increase, so does the group of young people. “Darknet” has become a new area of domestic cyberspace governance, and “darknet” crime has also brought new challenges to cyberspace governance.
The current system and technology of combating darknet crime are difficult in many ways, so the effectiveness of the crackdown varies from country to country, said Jin Ming, deputy squadron leader of the criminal police brigade of Jiangsu Hai’an City Public Security Bureau. The interaction of networks and logistics has led to a more specialized form of drug-related crime and to a low age group with a tendency to professionalize. As networks know no borders, it is inevitable that countries should strengthen international cooperation in legal, institutional and technical aspects, seize key links, bring criminals to justice and prevent the “dark web” from becoming a place outside the law.
Dr. Ni Jun, of the Institute of Cyberspace Strategy at Fudan University, wrote that China should further study and develop governance measures in line with China’s national conditions on the basis of learning from overseas “darknet” governance experiences and practices. The relevant government departments should organize key domestic cybersecurity research institutes and launch special projects and research, so as to have the technical capability of “darknet” management and control as soon as possible to meet China’s cyberspace governance needs.
The Jiangsu province’s law firm Fan National Lawyer pointed out that “darknet” crime is difficult to obtain evidence, which adds to the difficulty for law enforcement agencies to combat crime. It is recommended that forensic capacity be enhanced through a variety of technical means. In addition, the State should establish cooperation with enterprises involved in cybersecurity, jointly develop technologies and tools, and involve some professional and technical personnel in concrete actions to combat the “dark web”.
He also suggested that the relevant laws and regulations should be strengthened, the production and sale of fake identity cards, black phone cards, false IDs and other network black and grey industrial chain should be eliminated, and the public security and Internet information departments should jointly carry out special “dark network” crackdown, and increase the monitoring and combating of “dark network” and the use of “dark network” to commit criminal acts.