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The dark web unveils a clandestine realm on the Internet where anonymity reigns supreme. It can be likened to a parallel universe—an alternative Internet—where individuals communicate covertly and securely, shielded from the prying eyes of the government. While commonly associated with illegal activities and criminal enterprises, the Dark Web might actually serve as a stronghold for the protection of privacy.


What exactly is the dark web ? 

Imagine the web as an iceberg, with the surface web representing the visible portion that people  interact with daily. This surface web constitutes merely 5% of the total Internet. Below the surface lies the deep web, an anonymous online space accessible only through specialized software. Finally, there is the Dark Web—a segment of the deep web that conceals one’s identity and location. It encompasses a network of encrypted channels designed to anonymize users’ online presence.

Gaining access to this encrypted network is relatively straightforward; one simply needs to download a darknet software such as Tor, I2P, or Freenet. Among these options, Tor stands as the most popular. Initially developed by the US Navy for governmental use in the mid-1990s, Tor—short for “The Onion Routing”—was eventually open-sourced in 2004. Since then, it has become the preferred Dark Web browser for the majority of users, granting them anonymous web browsing through masking and encryption of their online activities.


How does Tor work ? 

When one browses the web, their IP address serves as their online identity. Every device connected to the Internet possesses one, which allows anyone to trace their location when visiting websites. However, the Tor browser operates differently. Instead of directing connection requests directly from their origin to their destination, Tor routes these requests through a complex network of detours known as relays. Comprising computers contributed by individuals worldwide, Tor boasts over 7,000 relays, randomly bouncing users’ requests across various locations globally.


Who utilizes the Dark Web ? 

A diverse array of individuals seeks the cloak of anonymity it provides: journalists, activists, criminals, and spies. While the Dark Web does harbor criminal activities, such as illegal drug trade, arms dealing, and child pornography, these activities are not as pervasive as often depicted in the media. Criminality does not define the primary purpose of the Dark Web or its raison d’être. In reality, it is a tool utilized not only by government agencies worldwide but also by journalists, dissidents, and individuals residing in countries with oppressive regimes. Additionally, it serves as a platform for the creation and utilization of anonymous online communities.


Why, then, does the media exhibit such hysteria surrounding the Dark Web? 

Media outlets often sensationalize the Dark Web, predominantly associating it with criminal endeavors and terrorism. This approach garners attention, generates clickbait, and fuels the creation of thrilling TV shows and movies. However, this portrayal demonizes the Dark Web, dissuading people from exploring it. Those in positions of power have a vested interest in this narrative, fearing that the privacy and anonymity offered by the Dark Web may erode their control.

The emergence of the Silk Road, the first Dark Web marketplace, exemplifies the resistance against government control and the quest to establish a large-scale anonymous community that safeguards privacy. This defiance ruffled the feathers of influential figures, leading to the arrest and subsequent life sentence of Ross William Ulbricht, the Silk Road’s creator, in 2016.


Navigating the Legal Labyrinth: The Dark Web’s Legal Implications

In the legal realm, the Dark Web presents a myriad of intricate challenges that demand careful consideration. The very nature of its inherent anonymity and encryption raises complex legal questions. Law enforcement agencies find themselves confronted with a daunting task when it comes to investigating and prosecuting criminal activities that transpire within the concealed realms of the Dark Web. The elusive nature of identifying perpetrators and tracing their illicit activities poses significant hurdles to effective law enforcement.

One of the core dilemmas lies in striking the right balance between preserving privacy rights and ensuring public safety. While privacy is a fundamental aspect of personal freedom, it can also provide a shield for nefarious actors to carry out illicit activities undetected. Legislators and policymakers face the arduous responsibility of crafting regulations that effectively address the misuse of the Dark Web without unduly infringing upon civil liberties. This delicate balancing act necessitates careful consideration of legal frameworks that preserve the principles of due process and protection against unwarranted surveillance, while also equipping law enforcement agencies with the necessary tools to combat criminality within this digital frontier.

Furthermore, the ever-evolving nature of technology continuously challenges the legal landscape. New tools, encryption methods, and emerging threats constantly emerge, requiring a proactive approach in adapting and amending laws to keep pace with the digital revolution. This ongoing adaptation ensures that legal frameworks remain effective and relevant in addressing the complex and multifaceted issues arising from the Dark Web.

Ultimately, navigating the legal landscape of the Dark Web requires a comprehensive understanding of the nuances involved. It necessitates collaborative efforts between law enforcement agencies, legislators, technology experts, and civil rights advocates. By embracing an interdisciplinary approach, it becomes possible to develop a just and equitable legal framework that protects privacy rights, ensures public safety, and maintains the integrity of the digital realm in the face of emerging challenges posed by the Dark Web.


Christiane CHIOTIS 

M2 Cyberjustice – Promotion 2022/2023 


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