The federal government is preparing to use the case against alleged Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht as a trojan horse to eviscerate Internet freedoms and make website owners criminally responsible for their users’ actions, setting the precedent for chilling new laws that would drastically change the face of the world wide web.
Ulbricht is currently facing charges of narcotics trafficking, computer hacking, money laundering, and engaging in a criminal enterprise for his role in setting up Silk Road, an online marketplace that allowed users to buy goods anonymously, including illegal drugs, using bitcoin as a payment method. In October 2013, the FBI shut down Silk Road and arrested Ross Ulbricht.
Although media coverage surrounding the case has almost exclusively focused on the accusation that Silk Road was a haven for criminals and drug dealers, the much larger issue of how the federal government is exploiting the case to set a dangerous precedent for laws which would crush basic Internet and financial freedoms has been overlooked.
The fact remains that Ulbricht is guilty for none of the charges leveled against him, only for allegedly running a website on which such activities were alleged to have taken place. As the Free Ross Ulbricht website notes, “If Ulbricht is convicted, it opens the door for the censure and erosion of a free Internet. Under present law, website hosts are not held responsible in civil cases for illegal actions on their sites. This case could set precedent for criminal liability for web hosts.”
In an interview with Julia Tourianski, Ulbricht’s mother Lyn Ulbricht explains why the case poses the biggest threat to the future of the Internet since SOPA and PIPA.
“This case will pave the way for new laws and new interpretations of law,” said Ulbricht, adding that Ross Ulbricht’s attorney Joshua Dratel emphasized the fact that the government often uses high profile cases to enact draconian legislation.
“Laws will be made based on the Silk Road case,” warned Ulbricht, adding that Internet autonomy and privacy could be decimated, while bitcoin’s status as a virtual currency would be revoked to bring it under money laundering regulations, thereby eviscerating the entire foundation of bitcoin as an anonymous crypto-currency.
Undoubtedly the most concerning precedent that could arise out the case would make website owners criminally responsible for the behavior of their users. Ulbricht is being hit with hacking charges despite the fact that he never personally hacked into a computer, with the prosecution citing the fact that software which may have been used to hack computers was sold on Silk Road, and that Ulbricht is responsible under the legal definition of “transferred intent.”
In effect, this would set the precedent that eBay and other online retailers, both large and small, are criminally liable for everything sold on their platform, despite the fact that, “transferred intent” is a violation of section 230 of the the Communications Decency Act. It would also open up website owners to be criminally responsible for user comments, threats and hate speech, which would inevitably lead to free speech on the web and social media being stifled.
The case is also likely to be exploited as a poster child for the long-standing agenda to abolish Internet anonymity altogether and impose draconian regulation in line with the White House’s “trusted identities” program.
Another example under which new laws could be applied is if ISPs become criminally responsible for the browsing and download activity of their users, potentially greasing the skids for mandatory website filters (other examples of which have censored completely innocent content), as well as stringent monitoring of users to offset potential liability.
“They will use this case to expand their power,” said Ulbricht, adding that the very future of the Internet is on the line. “This case is going to set law going into the 21st century – it’s going to impact the Internet which impacts all of us – laws will be made and precedent will be set.”
Media coverage of the Silk Road case has been largely prevaricated on unproven allegations of “murder for hire” against Ross Ulbricht, while the chilling precedent that could be set for the Internet in terms of privacy, anonymity and the criminal liability of website owners has been almost universally ignored.
Lyn Ulbricht said the “murder for hire” charges, five out of six of which have already been thrown out, enabled the establishment media to smear her son’s reputation and suppress fundraising, as well as serving to deny Ulbricht bail and violate his due process rights by delaying him from being allowed to view details of his own case.
Mainstream press coverage of the case has been vehemently one sided, with reporters blithely regurgitating the government’s assertion that Ross Ulbricht and an individual nicknamed ‘DPR’ were one and the same person, despite the fact that this has not been substantiated, in order to denigrate Ulbricht’s character.
“If the prosecution can misapply law in Ross’ case, it can do it to any of us,” said Ulbricht. “What they’re doing is taking laws that were designed for the physical world, do not match the allegations….and trying to force them, strong arm them onto allegations that simply do not match.”
“This is unconstitutional and as far as I’m concerned if they’re going to operate that way this is a threat to us all, warned Ulbricht, adding, “If we don’t have rule of law and comply with the constitution and prosecutors can use the law as they wish without going through the legislature to make laws that fit, it’s a threat to us all.”
“We’re up against a goliath and we need an army of Davids to come alongside us and help us, please help us.”
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