The Pitfalls of Policing the Dark Web

The Pitfalls of Policing the Dark Web
A participant speaking at a conference on cybersecurity at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Potsdam, Germany, May 4, 2017 (Photo by Ralf Hirschberger for dpa via AP Images).

Criminals on the dark web are compelling law enforcement agencies in the United States and Europe to alter the way they conduct investigations on the internet, opening up new possibilities for international police collaboration against cybercrime but also, critics warn, expanding the long arm of the law without a clear understanding of the impact. Since 2013, the proliferation of decentralized cryptocurrencies and online black markets has created countless new avenues for easy criminality. From the confines of a living room in China, a drug dealer using an anonymous browser can sell opioids to a user in the United States that are shipped through Malta, constructing a complex web of transactions around the world.

“Cybercrime is borderless and criminals take advantage of it, so we have to make sure we are working together to catch these guys,” says Nan van de Coevering, who leads the Dutch national police’s Dark Web Team, which was instrumental in dismantling the dark web market Hansa in 2017. Almost 4,000 drug dealers were active on Hansa, selling heroin, MDMA and other substances.

Supported by Europol, the European Union’s main law enforcement agency, van de Coevering worked with her federal policing counterparts in Germany and the United States to dismantle the Hansa network and assist in the takedown of AlphaBay, another cryptomarket. Their successful collaboration led to more momentum for law enforcement to cooperate across borders to investigate and police the dark web. Last June, Europol created a dedicated Dark Web Team, six months after the U.S. Justice Department started its own Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement team, known as J-Code, to combat online opioid sales.

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