Empire Files: Privacy, Control & the Darknet

(TFC) – Do you know how to remain safe in the age of mass surveillance and data mining? Have you ever wondered how the internet really works?

Most internet users perceive the internet to be a vast and seemingly limitless space despite their lack of awareness of its actual structure and varied uses. Beyond the everyday space referred to as the World Wide Web, there is an expansive dark space not seen by the ordinary world and not indexed by search engines. This mysterious space is only seen by internet users who have the tools and knowledge to access it.

This space, which is often misunderstood, goes by the names of Deep Web, Dark Web, and Darknet though these names have different meanings and are often misused. Imagine the internet as an iceberg, with the World Wide Web as the tip. Below that is the Deep Web– the expansive hidden space beneath the surface, meaningless to most internet users. Private networks not accessible to search engines are within the Deep Web where things like administrative code and banking data are found. Conversely, the Darknet is much smaller. It is an encrypted network requiring specific tools for access. The Tor network is found on the Darknet and thus was where the Silk Road was located.

Not everything that happens on the Darknet is illegal. On the Tor network, users are able to browse the internet anonymously which is one of the most significant attractions. There are also hidden places, unique to the Darknet, that are only accessible via Tor. Contrary to the belief of those unfamiliar with the Darknet, not all of the content found there is illegal and not every Tor user has criminal intent. The Darknet is where many political dissidents, journalists and others who value their anonymity can be found.

Only a minor portion of the activities taking place on the Darknet are actually nefarious. The Tor network was initially funded by the U.S. government and was created for the U.S. Navy. The intelligence community was in need of a dedicated space for encrypted communication. In order for that encrypted communication network to be practical, however, the network needed more users and additional traffic, leading it to being introduced to the public. Soon after, as users began to congregate and utilize the anonymous space, communities like the Silk Road began appearing.

Image Source: Michell Zappa Flickr, Creative Commons
PRIVACY: @chassyofcricket

Deep Web, a documentary created by filmmaker Alex Winter, explores the history of the Silk Road, the anonymous community that facilitated the sale of numerous illegal items and services, namely illicit drugs. The creator of the Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, garnered the name from the ancient trade route across Asia. Unfortunately, Ulbricht was given a double life sentence without the possibility of parole for his involvement in the Silk Road.

Winter explains in detail what the Silk Road was, including the unique and unusual anonymous community that it fostered and the bias against the activities taking place on, as well as the users of, the Darknet. Despite having been created by the U.S. government, the U.S. Empire has continually pushed a negative narrative of the space and it’s users– perceiving the existence of a drug community in direct opposition to the U.S. Drug War and the use of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, as direct threats.

Abby Martin and Winter also discuss how to remain safe and keep data and communications private in an ever increasingly surveilled world in this informative interview. Winter explains that anyone spreading the message that online privacy is not important and that encryption is only necessary for criminals is doing a major disservice. Winter adds that, in the digital space, privacy is a must and should be expected just as it is in the physical space.


Empire Files is a weekly documentary and investigative news program hosted by journalist Abby Martin on teleSUR English. Empire Files focuses on war, inequality and global politics from the heart of the Empire.