In this article, Varsha Jhavar, pursuing Diploma in Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws from NUJS, Kolkata discusses the legality of accessing the dark web in India
“The internet is the first thing that man built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”
The Internet is one of the most important inventions of the century. It brings us closer to the world and informs about the happenings at the other side of the globe. Like every invention of science, it also has its advantages and disadvantages. Data suggests that the number of people having access to the internet has been constantly increasing over the years. The number of people using the internet have increased from 0.4 billion in 2000 with 6.8 percent penetration (percentage of world population), to 1 billion in 2005 with 15.8 percent penetration, then to 2 billion in 2010 with 29.2 percent penetration and then to 3.1 billion in 2015 with 43.4 percent penetration. In 2016 the number of individuals having access to the internet is 3.4 billion with 46.1 percent penetration.
Internet consumes so much of our time, yet a large number of people don’t know about the existence of deep web and dark web, which came into the limelight after the Silk Road incident (discussed later). It has manifold uses, for example communication, shopping, banking.
What is the Dark Web?
Essentially the dark web is a collection of websites, which are encrypted and which cannot be accessed through ordinary software and conventional search engines like Google, Bing, they require specific browsers for access like The Onion Network or more commonly TOR. The Dark Web also called Darknet consists of small networks like friend-to-friend, peer-to-peer, and also large ones like TOR, I2P which are operated by public organizations. In TOR the data is encrypted in layers analogous to the layers of an onion.
TOR through encryption keeps the identities and IP addresses of the people accessing the Dark web untraceable. The TOR browser protects the identity of the user by routing traffic through various IP locations and relay computers. The visitor to a Dark website has to use the same encryption tool as the site he wants to access and also know where to find the site, so as to type the URL and visit. Sites on the Dark Web can be accessed by anyone but it is problematic to find who is behind a site.
It is often confused and used interchangeably with the Deep Web which is much bigger. Dark Web is a part of the Deep Web. Deep Web is a collection of websites which cannot be opened on the browsers due to encryption on the internet but it also includes mundane data regarding the document. It makes the right to privacy real. Simply surfing on the Dark web is not illegal, unless illegal content is accessed. There are email servers like SIGAINT, ProtonMail which allow users to send and receive mail without their location or identity being revealed. Facebook has a version of its site on the dark web so that it can be accessed from countries like China and Iran where it is restricted. The basic idea about this is the maintenance of anonymity i.e. it protects a user’s identity and masking IP addresses, which in turn makes the location unknowable.
TOR was created by a non-profit group and later on took over by the Government. It is officially sponsored by United States Department of State Bureau Of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor, The Ford Foundation and The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
History of Dark Web
In 1969, the first message was transmitted between computers connected by ARPANET, which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Within a few years, other secretive networks appear alongside ARPANET. In the 1980s, the standardization of internet created the problem of storage of illegal data, a solution came up in the form of “data havens”. Then peer-to-peer data transmission came, which resulted in decentralized data hubs which could store illegal files and were password protected. In 2000, Freenet was developed by Ian Clarke, a software that offered anonymous access to the darkest recesses of the web. In 2002, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory released TOR, a software which concealed the location and IP addresses of its users. Originally made for government use, protection of identities of American agents working in suppressive countries like China, but later on, came to be used by the common people. Wired magazine in 2005 estimated that about half a million movies were distributed on the Darknet everyday. There was copyright infringement of everything right from Bollywood blockbusters to Microsoft office. In January 2009, Satoshi Nakamato introduced the world to an untraceable form of cryptocurrency, Bitcoin. It instantly became popular with people operating on the Dark Web as it guaranteed anonymity. Silk Road, an online market for buying and selling of drugs on Dark Web became famous because of an article on a blog and the value of Bitcoin tripled. In 2013, Eric Eoin Marques, described by Federal Bureau of Investigation to be “the largest facilitator of child porn on the planet” was arrested. FBI shuts down Silk Road and arrests its developer and about a month another online marketplace surfaces, Silk Road 2.0.
Uses of Dark web
A clever person who wishes to buy illicit drugs wont search for them on the Surface Web, but instead he will go to the Dark Web anonymously, so as to protect his location and IP address. Likewise, the drug sellers would also not sell on the sites such as Google where they can be easily tracked by law enforcement.
Individuals may communicate through email, web chats or personal messaging on the Dark Web. Users navigate the Dark Web through directories such as the “Hidden Wiki”, where sites are organized according to their categories and it also tells which sites are live and which defunct and which ones are trustworthy.
It is used for legitimate as well as criminal purposes. It is used by whistleblowers, privacy minded citizens as well as by terrorists, hackers, paedophiles, drug traffickers. It is used for maintaining privacy, selling illegal goods, selling fake passports and IDs, for getting assassinations done, finding hackers, viewing child pornography. It is the criminal side of it, for is of concern to law enforcement agencies and public policy makers.
The top 10 countries having the highest number of individuals accessing the Dark Web in terms of relay users, who are connected directly are United States with 0.4 million daily users, followed by Germany, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Ukraine, France, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Canada and Indonesia.
Daniel Moore and Thomas Rid, of King’s College London, conducted a research, which helps understand the common uses of websites on TOR and published it in an essay titled ‘Cryptopolitik and the Darknet’. “The results suggest that the most common uses for websites on Tor hidden services are criminal, including drugs, illicit finances and pornography involving violence, children and animals,” this finding brings into focus the amount of illegal content on the darknet. They conducted the study for a period of five weeks and found 5,205 live websites, out of which 1,547 hosted illicit material.
Journalists in heavily censored countries like China use the deep web to communicate and exchange information, without any fear of Government. The Dark Web provides them with an avenue to to get information out to the rest of the world without censorship.
‘Relays’ have been established by TOR on computers around the world through which information passes. All traffic passes through at least three relays before reaching its destination. Last relay is called exit relay.
The process of crawling is used by conventional search engines, but they don’t gather content from the Deep Web for reasons such as them being unstructured, unlinked or temporary content. The URL format is different for use of TOR, instead of suffixes like .com, suffixes like ‘. onion’ are used. It is used for free speech, privacy, anonymity.
TOR may be used for circumvention of censorship in countries where regulations have been imposed by governments. It may also be used by political dissidents to hide share theirs at the same time hiding their identities. It is also used for sensitive communications by individuals and businesses. Criminals, terrorists as well as state sponsored spies may use it for coordination, communication and action. The Deep Web search engine for drugs is Grams.
It was observed through the analysis of some cases that the best way to defeat the online criminals may be traditional law enforcement in addition to technology.
Physical boundaries between the countries, means different enforcement agencies but the internet has no boundaries, and when criminal activities on internet cross boundaries, law enforcement agencies of two or more countries became involved and the laws of different nations may not be consistent. This inconsistency in the laws of different countires is exploited by the criminals accessing TOR.
Dark Web: A Double-Edged Sword
Dark Web is a double-edged sword, which along with its its advantages involves some risks as well. Like everything there are two sides to it, every has two sides; pro and cons a negative and a positive one. There are two aspects two it; one the associated with crimes like Silk Road and darker sphere of activities of the human beings, the other is the good one which includes whistleblowing, some just for maintaining their privacy. It used in two ways by the people accessing it: first, there are the good ones who use it just for maintaining their privacy and for whistleblowing which they cannot do on the regular internet and others, who use it for terrorism, buying of weapons and drugs, making fake IDs and watching child pornography. On one hand, there are people genuinely concerned about privacy on the other hand there are drug dealers and paedophiles. In 2015, data from a website called Ashley Madison, which was a website to facilitate bored spouses to cheat on their partners, was put on the Dark Web and hackers stole it. These hackers threatened to upload it unless the website was closed down. The users of this website have received blackmail letters to either pay $2500 in bitcoin or have their infidelity exposed. A study conducted in 2014 by Gareth Owen from the University of Portsmouth found that the most commonly found content on TOR was child pornography.
The Surface web, Deep Web and Dark Web
Websites that are accessible through traditional search engines like Google are not the only websites on the Internet, this Surface Web only constitutes a small portion of it. The Surface Web is Google, Facebook, Amazon, eBay and everything else a search site typically shows. Depending on the survey, Google only catalogues and searches 4 to 16 percent of the Surface Web. If the internet were equated to an iceberg, the traditional search engines like Google, Bing comprise the Surface Web and constitute 4 percent of the internet, which is above the virtual waterline. Below the virtual waterline is the Deep Web which contains the legal documents, medical records, databases like Westlaw and Lexis Nexis, financial records, organisation specific repositories etc. and forms 90 percent of the internet. Below the Deep Web is the portion of the internet which is intentionally hidden from conventional search engines, that is, the Dark Web which includes drug trafficking, TOR encrypted sites, illegal information, private communications and constitutes 6 percent of the internet. This is the deepest part of the internet that anyone can reach. The Dark Web is employed by the military, police, journalists, whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, criminals and terrorists. It is used for criminal activities like drug trafficking, weapons and arms trading, selling stolen credit cards, making fraudulent passports, child pornography among other nefarious happenings. According to data, in 2003 there were 500 billion pages on the Deep web in comparison to a billion pages on the regular net. Books which are banned in throughout the world can also be found there. The best hackers in the world can also be found there.
Edward Snowden Revelation
Edward Snowden is a former National Security Agency employee who leaked classified information of the United States Government in 2013 without authorization. PRISM is an NSA program that gives the government access to the government to private electronic data of users collected by Gmail, Facebook and others. Edward Snowden’s revelation about monitoring of data by the NSA has made some privacy minded individuals switch from the conventional search engines to the Dark Web. Post revelation, the number of TOR users have increased by 75 percent in the US itself and doubled globally. Edward revealed classified documents to journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Ewen MacAskill and is currently seeking asylum in Russia after his US passport was cancelled.
Silk Road and Operation Onymous
Silk Road was once the most reliable source for purchasing drugs online. It was an online marketplace for the sale and purchase of illegal drugs and it could only be accessed through TOR. Transactions on this website took place only through Bitcoins. In February 2011, the website was launched by Ross William Ulbricht, known online as ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’. It initially opened with a fixed number of new seller accounts available, selling accounts on auction to new sellers, later that was changed to a fixed fee. It had vendors from more than 10 countries and more than a 100,000 buyers. In October 2013, the website was shut down by the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) and its founder arrested. A month later, another website with the name Silk Road 2.0 came online, which provides services similar to the last one, which too was shut down. In May 2015, Ulbricht was sentenced to life imprisonment. Ulbricht earned over $13 million in commissions from sales. Silk road apparently sales over $1.2 billion had occurred. Silk Road along with illegal drugs also made available pirated digital goods, fake passports and services like computer hacking.
Operation Onymous was a law enforcement operation involving police forces of over 17 countries. They worked together targeting Dark Web markets, to take down sites such as Silk Road 2.0, Cloud 9, Hydra. There arrested 17 people and seized $1 million in Bitcoin. A software developer who as running the Silk Road 2.0 under the name ‘Defcon’ was arrested. Within hours of the seizure, Silk Road 3.0 appeared.
Legality of accessing Dark Web from India
It is not illegal to access Dark Web from India because TOR hides the IP address and location of the user. As a result of the location being hidden, it is not possible to know from which country a user is accessing the Dark Web, so the question of the legality of access in India will not arise.
The Internet is one of the most important inventions of the century and the number of people accessing it are continuously increasing. The web most people know constitutes only 4 of the internet and is called the Surface Web. If the internet is an iceberg, the Deep Web would be below the waterline and it constitutes around 90 percent of the internet with databases like Westlaw and Lexis Nexis, and the Dark Web which is below the Deep Web, includes drug trafficking, TOR encrypted sites, illegal information, etc. and constitutes about 4 percent of the internet. The Dark Web is a collection of encrypted websites, which cannot be accessed through conventional search engines and require specific browsers for access like The Onion Network, in which the data is encrypted in layers analogous to the layers of an onion. When a person uses Dark Web, his location and IP address cannot be traced. It is used for legitimate as well as criminal purposes, it may be used by whistle-blowers, privacy minded citizens as well as by terrorists, hackers, paedophiles, drug traffickers. It is not illegal to access Dark Web from India because TOR hides the IP address and location of the user. Since the location being hidden, it is not possible to know from which country a user is accessing the Dark Web, so the question of the legality of access in India will not arise. Like all things Dark Web has its advantages and disadvantages, its use just depends on the user.
 Electronic Frontier Foundation, What is a Tor Relay?, https://www.eff.org/pages/what-tor-relay
 “The Changing Boundaries Between Federal and Local Law Enforcement,” Boundary Changes in Criminal Justice Organizations, pp. 81-111, http://www.ncjrs.gov/ criminal_justice2000/vol_2/02d2.pdf
 Mark, Ward (30 December 2014). “Tor’s most visited hidden sites host child abuse images”. BBC News. Archived from the original on 25 April 2015. Retrieved 28 May 2015.
 Sui, D., J. Caverlee, and D. Rudesill. 2015. “The Deep Web and the Darknet.” Accessed August 30, 2016. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/the-deep-web-and-the-darknet.