Frankfurt: 50% of German Dark web Traffic is Illegal

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On May 8, 2017, the Frankfurt public prosecutor spoke about the darknet and raised more questions regarding law enforcement’s job in policing hidden services. He acknowledged that the line between crime and free speech was undeniably difficult to distinguish. While allowing almost-unrestricted Tor access could save police resources and protect journalists, it might allow crime levels to go unchecked, he explained.

And the opposite argument, possibly just as bad, carries a threat of equal weight. Those who use the darknet for activities that he considered legal would likely suffer without a safe environment to “be a whistleblower.” And criminals, as always, would find a way to do exactly what they were doing before the police intervention.

Andreas May, the Frankfurt public prosecutor who spoke about the topic, explained that the darknet, in his experience, was actually small in size when compared to the clearnet. Worldwide, he said, only 2 million people used the darknet, counting both legal and illegal activity. In Germany, nearly 50% of Tor users (or .onion travelers in any form) used hidden services for illegal activity.

The German-speaking darknet users who participated in illegal activity often committed only minor crimes, however. These, he said, rarely elicited law enforcement’s involvement. The “true criminals” covered their tracks much more effectively than “the stupid offenders.” He said that there was basically nothing that could be done with respect to the intelligent users involved in the elicit parts of the darknet—drug marketplaces, for example.

He said that some of the lowest hanging fruit came from darknet firearm dealers. He added that they were neither professionals nor criminals and often made basic errors.The dealers would meet up with law enforcement after establishing a connection online. And, of course after the two parties: undercover law enforcement officers and the weapons dealer(s) would come to an agreement about the details of the transaction.

“Often, we are dealing with very low-spirited people, who even meet with us personally, after whom we have ordered weapons,” May said. “We then make use of the Leniency Notice.”

He explained that, like we have seen in many German weapon cases, vendors are often very likely to hand over their “shops.” This happens, perhaps most profoundly, in the case of the vendor behind Munich Gunman’s pistol purchase. He worked with police officers for a significant amount of time following his arrest . He gave them encryption keys and access to his devices. He even brought them to a cache of weapons that he kept hidden in a forest.

“You can imagine – if they [the now-captured dealers] continue to operate the shops, we can collect their customers sooner or later,” May explained. This is a common law enforcement tactic not one limited only to weapons cases. With that said, the belief that weapons vendors are some of the most likely to conduct deals in person does not seem far off target.

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