7 Ways the Silk Road Trial has Changed the World

COLUMBUS, OH — Countless words have been written on the topic of Ross Ulbricht and his prosecution, but almost everything I have read about him is in relation to buying and selling drugs or some other aspect of the Silk Road website. Why does it all have to be negative? What if the trial of Ross Ulbricht had a number of positive aspects to it, not just for the geeks and technical people involved, but for the entire world?  In spite of Ross Ulbricht being convicted on all counts, the world has been changed as a result.

by Steve Rhodes; Science Fiction section of Glen Park Library where Ross Ulbricht aka Dread Pirate Robert arrested allegedly for running the Silk Road website

by Steve Rhodes; Science Fiction section of Glen Park Library where Ross Ulbricht aka Dread Pirate Robert was arrested, allegedly for running the Silk Road website

Bitcoin is being discussed at length

Since its inception, Bitcoin has been slowly growing in popularity, however with the arrest and publicized trial of Ross Ulbricht, Bitcoin has been discussed, dissected and praised or attacked by many media outlets.  I often wear a Bitcoin t-shirt in public and I made a personal promise a few months ago: anyone who asks me about my shirt or Bitcoin will receive free bitcoins from me to begin using the currency.

Anyone from mall cashiers to bartenders have engaged me in conversations about Bitcoin, they have asked me how to acquire more of it and best of all, how to buy black market items online.  I usually help someone install a wallet on their phone and give them $5 or $10 worth of Bitcoin with detailed instructions on how it can be used and where.  It is amazing to see people’s eyes light up when they understand the consequences resulting from using the Bitcoin network and the financial freedom resulting from it.

The Government lies

It is almost an accepted premise by most that the Government lies; but starting with the arrest of Ross Ulbricht and the unfolding of the prosecution and trial, the world is learning that the United States Federal Government shows no hesitation of lying at every turn, all in a desperate attempt to obtain a conviction.

Immediately after the arrest of Ulbricht, the prosecution accused him of being involved in assassination attempts.  They have attempted to portray him as a mastermind who is responsible for running a massive criminal cartel, involved with the trafficking of weapons and drugs.  Worse, the judge has refused to give the defense team early access to the list of witnesses and also has threatened protesters who have been present at the trial.

In reality, Ross Ulbricht only ran a website.  That’s all.  There is no evidence showing that Ulbricht himself was involved in the actual buying or selling of drugs or weapons, or murder for hire.

While it is likely that he did receive a cut of the transactions that were taking place on the Silk Road, it is unclear if that in itself is even a crime.

Perhaps the biggest lie told by the Government is the one related to the discovery of the Silk Road server and the identity of Ross Ulbricht.  An FBI analyst claims that he “accidentally” discovered the identity and location of the Silk Road server through the use of the captcha feature on the login page of the site.  The agent said:

“When I typed the Subject IP Address into an ordinary (non-Tor) web browser, a part of the Silk Road login screen (the CAPTCHA prompt) appeared. Based on my training and experience, this indicated that the Subject IP Address was the IP address of the SR Server, and that it was ‘leaking’ from the SR Server because the computer code underlying the login interface was not properly configured at the time to work on Tor.”

Many other security professionals, including myself, believe that this explanation is preposterous and an outright lie.  No educated security professional could believe such an explanation for many reasons…too many to discuss in this article.

Of course, a more likely explanation is that the NSA has compromised a large number of TOR exit nodes, and therefore has the ability to track and identify individual users and hidden services throughout the network.  The prosecution could never admit to this as this surveillance is illegal and it would compromise their chance of obtaining a conviction.

People are learning how to use TOR

A diagram showing the traffic flow inside The Onion Router network

A diagram showing the traffic flow inside The Onion Router network

Because of the Silk Road trial, The Onion Network (TOR) is also being discussed openly, and while many professionals believe that it may be compromised by high-end surveillance entities such as the NSA, it can still offer a basic level of privacy.  Using the most recent version of a TOR client together with a secured and properly configured browser, average users can substantially increase their online privacy.

Many articles have been written about how to use TOR, but also how to configure hidden TOR services and this is a very positive step forward in educating the world about online privacy. In addition, it increases awareness of the fact that the Government continues to surveil most of the world using the “war on terror” and the “war on drugs” as an attempt to justify their spying.  These are largely victimless crimes.

PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) is being discussed in mainstream media

Another benefit of the trial is the discussion of various encryption technologies used by Ross Ulbricht and other administrators of the Silk Road website.  While public key cryptography can be a complex problem for average users to discuss and understand, the various media outlets covering the trial have attempted to explain in various ways how PGP works.

PGP was created by Phil Zimmermann who is a cryptographer and security scientist.  When Zimmermann created PGP in 1991, he was immediately arrested and charged with the violation of the Arms Export Control Act.  The US Government has long considered advanced encryption to be “munitions” and mostly equivalent to the possession and use of dangerous weapons.

Eventually the Government was unable to provide evidence of a crime and dropped the case against Zimmermann, but the initial actions taken against the creator of PGP show how much disdain the Government has for technologies used to increase privacy.

The reality is that the use of mathematically related public and private encryption key pairs, offer near perfect privacy for those using this technology.  And while PGP does not encrypt the meta-data of e-mail messages (such as the from and to field, or the subject field), it offers an extremely strong encryption method to the average users.  And this is why the Government hates it.

People are learning how to buy black market items online

Another extremely positive outcome of the Silk Road prosecution is the fact that the online black-market has been publicized to a population that would have otherwise never learned about it.  There are countless black-market websites that have gone into production since the shutdown of the Silk Road.  Worse, most of them do not share the non-aggression principles shared by the founder of the original Silk Road, which did not allow items related to weapons, assassinations, child pornography and financial fraud to be listed.

Besides such items, the largest trades on these black market sites seem to be related to drugs, and as we all know, the buying and selling of drugs would take place with or without such sites being in business.  Ironically, websites like Silk Road had in fact made drug selling and buying much safer for all the parties involved in the process.  And while I am not advocating any substance abuse, the idea of buying drugs from verified and reviewed sellers online sounds more palatable than walking into a dark alley at night to do the same.  By shutting down Silk Road, the Government has in fact increased the violence in the drug marketplace and contributed to a less safe environment for these transactions.

People are learning about the Non-Aggression Principle

Because of the supposed association of Ross Ulbricht with the Libertarian movement, the Non-Aggression Principle has come up many times in various articles written about Ulbricht and the Silk Road website.  In a 2013 interview with Forbes Magazine, the Dread Pirate Roberts referenced the futile war on drugs and how it was lost permanently thanks to the creation and propagation of crypto currencies like Bitcoin.  Better yet, Roberts said in unambiguous terms:

“We don’t allow the sale of anything that’s main purpose is to harm innocent people, or that it was necessary to harm innocent people to bring it to market. For example, anything stolen is forbidden, counterfeit money and coupons which are used to defraud people, hitmen aren’t allowed, and neither is child pornography. No substance on Silk Road falls under those guidelines.”

The wonderful thing is that this quote greatly summarizes the essence of the Non-Aggression Principle, namely the idea that initiation of, or threatening of, aggression or violence against people or property is always unjustified and immoral, while self-defense in such cases is justified.  This principle is at the core of several liberty movements which are quickly growing in the United States, such as The Free State Project, which is aimed at moving a large group of libertarians to New Hampshire in order to pursue a more free life for all.

People are learning about economics

Of course, what would all this be without the discussion about the economic aspect of Bitcoin and Silk Road? Since Bitcoin became a reality it has been called a fraud, a Ponzi scheme, a fiat currency, a brilliant currency, the death of the State, etc.  It may or may not be any of these things, but one thing is certain: Bitcoin has turned out to be a fantastic experiment in stateless economies.  Bitcoin needs no issuer, no State overseer, no Federal Reserve, no taxes, no IRS, no technical support, no dedicated network or technology, no processors to charge transaction fees, and no laws requiring its acceptance.  Bitcoin simply is a reboot of almost everything we know about contemporary State-centered economies.  And this is a good thing.

Perhaps one of the most dangerous things about the masses learning more about sound economics is the final realization that the State and economics have almost nothing in common, or at least they should not.  When average people realize that they are able to sell products and services to one another without taxation, their market creativity explodes.  When they realize that they can safely buy forbidden goods and services anonymously and safely, from the comfort of their couches, they will pursue their happiness and their life goals without much thought given to the Government’s rules.

The Government would have been wiser leaving Silk Road alone.  And while Ross Ulbricht may or may not be the Dread Pirate Roberts, he is the man paying a very heavy price for a government’s war on victimless crime.

If you want to support Ross Ulbricht and his case, visit: http://freeross.org/