In what is arguably one of the most egregious cases of injustice in recent times, Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind behind the virtual black market Silk Road, was sentenced to life without parole Friday for what many say was a victimless crime of providing a safer platform for the already existent drug trade.
U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest said the sentence was necessary to deter others from establishing similar platforms.
However, business is still booming among copycat sites which continue to thrive — even more so than their Silk Road predecessor.
Ulbricht was found guilty in February on all seven of the charges he was facing. Charges included trafficking drugs on the Internet, five charges of conspiracy, and a charge of running a continuing criminal enterprise — also known as a “kingpin” charge — which is typically reserved for mob bosses.
The darknet website Ulbricht founded in 2011 under the moniker “Dread Pirate Roberts” became a $1.2 billion drug empire as a place where people could buy and sell drugs without dark alleys or shady back rooms and even a money-back guarantee.
In a time when the general public is growing increasingly weary of the failed “War on Drugs”, and Silk Road’s primary trade — marijuana, has been legalized in many states across the country, the government seems to be undeterred in their pursuit of these nonviolent offenders when perhaps they should be focusing on its own DEA agents attending sex parties in Colombia thrown by cartel leaders.
In fact, Ulbricht’s lawyers are already preparing an appeal based in part on allegations that DEA and Secret Service agents investigating Silk Road ended up stealing millions of dollars in bitcoins from the site.
On Friday, moments before he was sentenced, Ulbricht pleaded with the judge to be released from prison before his death.
“I’ve had my youth, and I know you must take away my middle years, but please leave me my old age. Please leave a small light at the end of the tunnel, an excuse to stay healthy, an excuse to dream of better days ahead, and a chance to redeem myself in the free world before I meet my maker.”
The prosecution in this case requested 20 years, the minimum, but the judge turned around and threw the book at him to prove a point and attempt to deter those who would follow in his footsteps.
When Silk Road was shut down, it contained 13,000 drug listings. There are now 43,600 drug listings across the darknet, on sites such as Agora and Nucleus. The only example they seem to be making with Ulbricht’s life is teaching the new wave of website operators how not to get caught.
We report on case after case of police officers walking free from violent charges such as rape and even child porn as they are considered to be model citizens. Cops who have used their badges to commit their crimes.
But the double-standards is evident in all levels of government, from the city beat cop to the federal against investigating international crimes.
Ulbricht didn’t have a violent history nor any prior arrests. He created a platform, much like the creators of Craigslist, which also contains a large amount of illegal activity including human trafficking.
With the high profile of this case, it may set dangerous precedents which can trickle down through the courts, FreeRoss.org points out.
For example, with much of this case resting on digital proof, it significantly lowers the standard for evidence as digital evidence can be easily fabricated, manipulated, planted, edited, hacked, and modified.
In addition, being convicted as a web operator for the activities of users on his website opens a whole new can of worms that previously did not exist. This case makes way for server liability, which would be a damning blow to internet freedom.
So we must ask ourselves, Dread Pirate Roberts: a villainous drug kingpin or yet another victim of the War on Drugs?