UN Report Urges Solutions to Dark Web Drug Trade

The agency has called for more legislative and technological methods for clamping down on the dark web's narcotics marketplace.

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Jun 23 2016, 2:50pm

UN flag. Photo: sanjit/Flickr

The dark web drug trade is seemingly on the up, and one agency that has certainly noticed is the United Nation's Office on Drugs and Crime. In its annual report, published Thursday, the UNODC has called for more legislative and technological methods for clamping down on the narcotics trade on the dark web trade.

"Law enforcement and the criminal justice system in many countries are still not in a position to deal effectively with the anonymous online marketplace known as the 'dark net'," the report reads.

Naturally, law enforcement can have trouble identifying suspects on the dark web. Because the markets run as Tor hidden services, the location of their servers is masked. That, and because users typically connect over Tor as well, obfuscating their IP address.

As an aside, Europol, Europe's law enforcement agency, has made similar calls. In a 2014 report, the agency wrote that "law enforcement should build technical capabilities in order to support technical investigations into subjects using Darknets, in accordance with relevant legislation."

What those capabilities might entail is unclear. But on the other side of the Atlantic, the FBI has turned to increasingly sophisticated solutions, such as hacking dark web users' computers, or relying on the research of Department of Defense-funded institutions to obtain IP addresses.

But it isn't just practical problems that law enforcement has to face. The UNODC notes that legal issues include figuring out which is the responsible jurisdiction for combating a crime, especially when the actual location of a suspect is unknown

Indeed, researchers have shown that dark web policing raises serious concerns around national sovereignty. When an agency hacks a user on the dark web, authorities don't actually know what country the malware is going to land in. That, and the UNODC sees problems with sharing intelligence when it's not clear where in the world that intelligence would be best used.

The agency also pushes for legislation that would require suspects to decrypt their devices when charged with a crime. Of course, hard-drive encryption is certainly not exclusive to dark web users. It's worth noting that the most recent high profile decryption case, which concerned the San Bernardino iPhone, had nothing to do with the dark web.

Nevertheless, the UNODC wants to see some change in this area.

"The provision of technical assistance and capacity-building for Member States to collect and exploit digital evidence is key to addressing the threat posed by drug trafficking via the Internet," the report adds.

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