Goodbye, Yellow Silk Road

CYBERDRUGS, USA—We’re still trying to wrap our minds around the fact that Silk Road was able to operate out of San Francisco for as long as it did, especially since the FBI considered it, per its criminal complaint, to be "the most sophisticated and extensive criminal marketplace on the Internet today.” In operation since 2011, the infamous online illegal drug emporium and hit man classifieds was finally taken down this week by the feds, who also arrested the site’s libertarian-minded owner, Ross Ulbricht, aka Dead Pirate Roberts, at a San Francisco library yesterday afternoon.

No word on what he was doing at the library (using the free computers, maybe?), but Reuters did include in their coverage a quote from his mother, who insisted that her son is "a really stellar, good person and very idealistic. I know he never meant to hurt anyone."

Except for that one guy who threatened to expose the identities of Silk Road users. According to Reuters, “During one correspondence with a Silk Road user, Ulbricht tried to call out a hit on another user with whom he had a dispute. That user, known online as ‘FriendlyChemist,’ was threatening to expose the identities of thousands of Silk Road users unless Ulbricht sent him money.”

Dead Pirate Roberts allegedly wrote of FriendlyChemist, whose personal details he included in the post, "I wouldn't mind if he was executed.”

Later, he added, "He is threatening to expose the identities of thousands of my clients. This kind of behavior is unforgivable to me. Especially here on Silk Road, anonymity is sacrosanct."

But hey, sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees, especially if your site is pulling in over a million in dollars in sales per month acting, according to the New York Times, as a global marketplace for “a broad range of drugs, including ecstasy, LSD and heroin.”

Ulbricht, who reportedly has a public defender, was arraigned in federal court today and has a bail hearing set for Friday. The 29-year-old has an advanced degree in chemical engineering, and according to Reuters, described himself in a Google+ profile “as a fan of libertarian economic philosophy [who] posted videos from the Ludwig von Mises Institute, an Auburn, Alabama-based economics institute.”

The libertarian theme of the site was also represented by its embrace of bitcoin, the unregulated digital currency that is accepted by a number of porn sites, though not yet by third party processors servicing the industry.

Reuters further reported, “During the raid, authorities seized $3.6 million worth of bitcoin, which was used instead of cash or credit cards to complete transactions on Silk Road.

“The charges against Ulbricht said his website generated sales of more than 9.5 million bitcoin, roughly equivalent to $1.2 billion,” it added.

Bitcoin, which has been in existence since at least 2008, came to international prominence during the recent economic crisis in Cyprus, but as far as law enforcement is concerned, “[it] first came under scrutiny … in mid-2011 after media reports surfaced linking the digital currency to Silk Road.”

As a recent seminar during Webmaster Access that addressed the bitcoin phenomenon, advocates for the digital currency admitted that it is used on illegal sites like Silk Road, but averred that any currency can likewise be used for good or ill, and insisted that the flexibility and stability that bitcoin has shown should trump these other issues. Not everyone in the audience was convinced, however, that an unregulated, anonymous digital currency is a safe place for people to commit more than minimal amount of cash.