The Silk Road interface, showing drugs and other illegal goods for sale.
Another user of the Silk Road online black marketplace has discovered that the service is not quite as anonymous or foolproof as he thought. Charged with drug trafficking, unlicensed gun theft and counterfeiting, Sheldon Kennedy could be facing 20 years.
Homeland Security said in a press release that a special Silk Road task force in Baltimore began looking into Kennedy after intercepting a package bound for him from China and containing a fair amount of ecstasy. That may have been enough on its own, but the Homeland Security agents in charge decided to pursue the case a bit further.
Their patience bore fruit: a package sent by Kennedy to England was found to contain drugs, and undercover agents successfully bought cocaine and a pistol from him. He also, rather foolishly, posted pictures of his stash on Facebook and Google+, which the team also entered into evidence. Within six months, investigators had a warrant to search his home in Miami, and there found ten guns and assorted drugs and counterfeit cash.
It's a sobering reminder for anyone who believes anonymizing services like Tor and new currencies like Bitcoin provide immunity from the law. The government might not be able to tell who you are online, but the illegal merchandise still travels through the real world — and it's difficult to stay anonymous when your name is the return address on a box of guns and drugs.
First published February 21 2014, 11:42 AM
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer at NBC News; he started his role in April of 2013. Coldewey is responsible for original reporting on a number of tech topics, such as photography, biotechnology, and Internet policy.
Coldewey joined NBCNews.com from TechCrunch, where he was an editor covering a similarly wide variety of content and industries. His personal website is coldewey.cc.