Howdy! My name is Ernest Powell, and I am a Computer Science Major at Texas A&M University. You may have heard on the news about the Dark Web, and how many different Darknet websites are being shut down. There is a reason for this; 57% of the websites on the Dark Net contain Illegal/Illicit content including the selling and trafficking of drugs/weapons/people, guns for hire, and child pornography. My family has been directly affected by these sites when my underage brother was exploited by them.
The United States Government created and has been funding the most popular platform for these sites, Tor. Which means us, the taxpayers, have been funding them. With the help of Lobbyists 4 Good, I believe we can shut down these domains, while preserving the anonymity necessary for journalists, freedom fighters, and the common citizen to use the web.
The Dark Web is defined as a hard-to-access portion of the deep web, which can only be accessed using a special browser (some sites require a special password) and which can only be accessed anonymously. The most popular special browser for anonymously accessing the Dark Web is The Onion Router (“Tor”), which is an open-source application (developed by the US military for the purpose of helping to anonymize the communications of US military personnel) and is open to use by anyone who downloads the software.
While the Dark Web’s anonymity offers some benefits, like allowing citizens under repressive regimes to access and communicate via the internet or allowing whistleblowers to publish materials without fear of reprisal, it also enables many criminal activities. As mentioned before, over 57% of all traffic on the Dark Web is related to illegal activity like child pornography and for the purchase of illegal drugs.
The United States cannot simply let the illicit activities occurring on the Dark Web go unchecked. However, regulation poses several difficulties. First, trying to take down Tor altogether would likely result in another version of Tor being created which might be more difficult for law enforcement to navigate. Second, many users of Tor are using the service for legitimate purposes and could be put in danger if their anonymity is removed (e.g. citizens in repressive regimes). As a result, the most effective way to regulate the Dark Web is to ensure the FBI has a well-funded and robust division dedicated to monitoring the Dark Web and setting up “sting” operations to catch people performing illegal activities - which should help to disincentivize the use of the Dark Web by letting people know they are vulnerable to the Rule of Law even when they might think they are anonymous without shutting down Tor altogether or revealing the identities of those who have not been found to be doing something illegal.
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Every day we don’t increase our policing of the Dark Web, more people are able to access child pornography and purchase illicit drugs and services without a serious fear of consequences. The impacts don’t stop at the individual level, but are felt by the children whose images are being trafficked and by the communities affected by the sale and distribution of drugs. The FBI needs to establish a larger presence in the Dark Web to disincentivize illegal activity and to ensure that criminals face consequences for their actions. Unfortunately, there is very little conversation in Congress about increasing funding for Dark Web enforcement.
Hiring a lobbyist to advocate for increasing funding for Dark Web enforcement would start the conversation in Congress about this urgent issue. The lobbyist could work with the FBI to produce compelling information about the need for increased funding and then would work with the Appropriations Committees in the House and the Senate to appropriate the proper amount of funding to best secure this initiative.