Out of the periphery of most online users, there’s a vast, hidden space used by people who want to remain anonymous, which filmmaker Alex Winter explores in his documentary Deep Web. The film focuses on the Silk Road, a black market hosted on the Darknet using bitcoin cryptocurrency, and the trial of Ross Ulbricht, who was given a double life sentence without the possibility of parole for creating and hosting the site.
Abby Martin and Alex Winter discuss more about the Deep Web, the Drug War, and why encryption on things like signal still matter in light of the Wikileaks’ Vault 7 release.
Privacy, Control & the Darknet
Do you think you know how the internet really works? Do you have an understanding of how to keep yourself safe in the age of mass surveillance and data mining?
The internet that most users are aware of is vast and seemingly limitless. But beyond this everyday space is an expansive dark space never seen by the ordinary world and utilized by users who wish to remain anonymous for a host of reasons. This mysterious space is not indexed by search engines and only seen by internet users who have the tools and knowledge to access it.
This often misunderstood space is referred to the Deep Web, Dark Web, and Darknet though these names have different meanings and are often misused. Think of the World Wide Web as the tip of the internet iceberg. Below that is the Deep Web– the vast space hidden beneath the surface that is largely meaningless to most people. Within the Deep Web is where private networks not accessible to search engines and users without permission are located and where things such as banking data and administrative code are found. Conversely, the Darknet is much smaller– it is an encrypted network requiring specific tools to access it. This is where the Tor network is and thus where the Silk Road was found.
Not everything happening on the Darknet is illegal. Tor allows users to browse the internet anonymously as well as access hidden places that are unique to the Darknet. While it’s true that the Silk Road was accessed via the Tor browser, not all of the content in the Darknet is illegal and not every Tor user has criminal intent. Within the Darknet is where many political dissidents, journalists and others who value their anonymity can be found.
In fact, Tor was funded by the U.S. government and created for the U.S. Navy as a means for the intelligence community to have a specific place for encrypted communication. In order for that encrypted communication network to be practical, the network needed additional users and more traffic, so it was introduced to the public. Only a small percentage of the activities taking places on the Darknet are actually nefarious.
Filmmaker Alex Winter’s documentary, Deep Web, explores the history of the Silk Road. Ross Ulbricht created the Silk Road, garnering the name from the ancient trade route across Asia. Eventually Ulbricht was given a double life sentence without the possibility of parole for his involvement in the Silk Road, the anonymous community that facilitated the sale of numerous illegal items and services, namely illicit drugs. Winter’s previous documentaries also focus on government persecution of web pioneers.
In Deep Web, Winter highlights what the Silk Road was– including the unique and unusual anonymous community that it fostered and the obvious 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 empire pushes a negative narrative of the space, perceiving the existence of a drug community in direct opposition to their Drug War and the use of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, as direct threats.
In this illuminating interview, Abby Martin and Winter also discuss the need to remain safe in the digital age by keep data and communications private in an ever increasingly surveilled world. As Winter explains, anyone saying that privacy is not necessary and that encryption is only for criminals is doing a major disservice. Winter adds that privacy is a must in the digital space just like it is needed in the physical space.
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