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Matthew Radefeld & Dan Juengel
Matthew A. Radefeld and Daniel A. Juengel

The dark web and federal criminal defense

On Behalf of | Jan 4, 2019 | Federal Crimes |

The internet is the preferred home for white collar and federal criminals. Law enforcement routinely uses IP addresses as a standard tool in their arsenal. The ease with which law enforcement can trace federal criminals through an IP Address may have ironically spawned the development of dark web technology.

IP addresses can be static (never changing) or dynamic (always shifting). The information route can flow through multiple static or dynamic servers; it becomes nearly impossible to determine whether a particular IP address corresponds to a specific criminal. For this reason, a judge often rules dark web evidence inadmissible in criminal trials.

What exactly is the dark web?

The dark web is a part of the internet hidden deep within the mainstream internet. Its users and their activities are anonymous. Dark web access requires a TorBrowser, which anyone can legally download from the internet. Most mobile or desktop platforms support TorBrowsers. The dark web interface is similar to the familiar internet people use daily for business, research or entertainment. The dark web differs because it embeds a vast system of invisible tendrils under the mainstream internet. Layers of sophisticated protection help defeat the discovery of a link between identity and criminal activity.

How does the dark web operate?

Dark web users gain anonymous and easy access to every imaginable criminal organization, items or activities. Users enter a keyword in a TorBrowser search engine to find a particular dark web marketplace. There, they can buy massive amounts of illicit property and data. They perform millions of illegal transactions such as money laundering or mail and wire fraud. In effect, the dark web operates a display case for federal crime shopping. Ordering an item on the dark web is as easy as placing an Amazon order.

Why does the dark web matter?

The dark web is here to stay. It contains hundreds of terrorist and extremist recruitment sites. It allows access and sells products to people who deal in identify theft, drugs and illegal weapons. Law enforcement continually upgrades technology to stay ahead. Deliberate IP address misdirection makes it more difficult for law enforcement to pinpoint the correct dark web IP address. Fourth Amendment issues surround search and seizure rights; an exclusionary rule within the Fourth Amendment disallows evidence obtained by an invasion of privacy. Law enforcement discovery, however, can hit close enough for authorities to wedge the door open and apply other tools to gain evidence more palatable to the court system.

Federal courts frequently throw out cases when experienced defenders challenge missing dark web evidence held by prosecutors. Courts concerned about Fourth Amendment issues have thus far been reluctant to force prosecutors to supply dark web code to defendants.