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Dark Commerce: How a New Illicit Economy Is Threatening Our Future
12th December 2018 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Though mankind has traded tangible goods for millennia, recent technology has changed the fundamentals of trade, in both legitimate and illegal economies. In the past three decades, the most advanced forms of illicit trade have broken with all historical precedents and, as Dark Commerce shows, now operate as if on steroids, tied to computers and social media. In this new world of illicit commerce, which benefits states and diverse participants, trade is impersonal and anonymized, and vast profits are made in short periods with limited accountability to sellers, intermediaries, and purchasers. Louise Shelley examines how new technology, communications, and globalization fuel the exponential growth of dangerous forms of illegal trade—the markets for narcotics and child pornography online, the escalation of sex trafficking through web advertisements, and the sale of endangered species for which revenues total in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The Henry Jackson Society is pleased to invite you to join Louise I. Shelley in a fascinating discussion about this illicit trade, which is a business the global community cannot afford to ignore and must work together to address.
Louise I. Shelley – is the Omer L. and Nancy Hirst Professor of Public Policy and University Professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, and founder and director of its Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center. Her many books include Human Trafficking and Dirty Entanglements. She lives in Washington, DC.
Ellie Green – is the Communications and Engagement Officer for the Henry Jackson Society. Prior to joining the Henry Jackson Society, Ellie worked as a Communications Officer at BICOM. While at BICOM she managed the digital communications of the organisation and helped to improve stakeholder relations. She has also interned for two New York-based non-profits, the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, in their Communications department. She has worked at the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education and was a Research Fellow at the Religion and Security Council.
The Henry Jackson Society was delighted to invite Louise I. Shelley for our latest event, “Dark Commerce: How a New Illicit Economy Is Threatening Our Future.” Louise I. Shelley – is the Omer L. and Nancy Hirst Professor of Public Policy and University Professor at George Mason University’s Scholar School of Policy and Government, and founder and director of its Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center. Her many books include Human Trafficking and Dirty Entanglements.
Louise commenced the discussion by outlining the difference between the surface web, the deep web and the dark web. The surface web includes any site that can be found through a regular search engine such as Google or Yahoo. The deep web expands upon this to include websites which require personal information in order to gain access such as passwords and usernames. This could include school records and bank files to name a few. Finally, the dark web is a network of untraceable activity. This can only be accessed by using anonymizing software such as a TOR browser which stands for ‘The Onion Router’.
Louise went on to describe how the dark web had provided a platform to create one of the largest forums for illicit trade. Inside the dark web, virtual trade is faceless and anonymized. There exists a vast potential to make enormous amounts of money in short time frames and with limited accountability to sellers, intermediaries, and purchasers. Louise cited as an example ‘The Silk Road’, an online platform which allowed vast and global sales of narcotics, child pornography, human trafficking and weapons.
The results of such online illicit trade have been multifaceted and affected almost every corner of the earth. From an ecological point of view, the planet had suffered irreparable damage from illegal wildlife and timber sales. For example the deep web has provided a platform for illicit rhinoceros horns sales – which are erroneously believed to possess medical properties. The dark web thus functions as a platform which may in fact, lead to this species extinction. Similarly, the sales of illegal pesticides have ruined crop harvests, poisoned food supplies and contributed to vast food shorted.
Furthermore, looted antiquities from war zones which previously would have been illegal and impossible to sell on the open market, have found their own market niche on the dark web. Such sales increase the incentive to steal such art, but also provide lucrative funds for numerous terrorists’ organisations – chiefly ISIS. This means that the dark web is perpetuating conflict and directly financing the procuration of arms for extremist groups. This can be contrasted with the billions lost every year by companies who find their data, personal information of technological secrets traded openly.
Citing lack of economic opportunities and an absence of property rights, Louise named the former Soviet Spaces and certain areas of the Middle East as concentrated areas where dark web users operate. Without laws friendly to technology startups, lax cyber laws and an inability of law enforcement to prevent IP fraud, the dark web provides an opportunity for certain people with cyber skills to make vast sums of money in short periods of time. The ‘Silk Road’ itself generated over 2 billion dollars in revenue over 2 years as well as subsequent amounts for its successor platforms. Interestingly, Louise described these ‘cyber gangster’ as far more intelligent and savvy than typical criminals.
In terms of regulation, Louise drew attention to the lack of resources and international co-ordination for a large scale counter-cyber solution. While INTERPOL touches briefly on cyber security, it is more akin to a post office for arrest warrants than co-ordination on crimes as specific as the dark web. This has left the FBI to largely carry out cyber security; a job for which it is overwhelmed, underfunded and understaffed. Louise called for the dark web to be regulated in a manner similar to that of the surface web by which sites are identified as illegal and its creators face the full force of the law.