In a major drive against drug abuse in the city, the Central Crime Branch (CCB) police of Bengaluru have conducted coordinated raids at the city’s various places and arrested drug peddlers in connection with alleged procurement of illicit drugs in India. The police said that the accused were sourcing these drugs through the internet platform 'Dark Net' and they used to pay in bitcoins. The drugs seized have been purchased using bitcoin, a virtual or digital currency, also referred as a cryptocurrency though the medium of dark net. The drugs were procured in India from outside in the garb of parcels or gift packets through the India Post. This article particularly focuses on the incident in Bengaluru, the meaning of darknet, the legality of the dark cyberspace in India, the advantages and disadvantages of using the darknet and also the probable methods of curbing illicit trade in drugs.
The Bengaluru Central Crime Branch(CCB) police have registered eight separate cases at eight police stations, arrested 10 persons involved in drugs peddling from the city’s various locations in East Bengaluru and seized approx Rs 90 lakh worth drugs consisting of MDMA, LSD and brown sugar in a major drive by the police against drugs racket. In this major crackdown against drug dealers, the police seized 1,100 LSD strips, 980 MDMA (also well-known as Ecstasy) pills, 450 grams of crystal meth, 25 grams of brown sugar or heroin, 500 ml of weed oil and 48 kg of cannabis or marijuana. The police believed that they sold the narcotics to college goers and techies based in Bangalore.
“Using darknet websites like Empire Market, Silk route, Drug Board and other banned websites, the accused were importing various kinds of drugs, including sedatives by paying through Bitcoin,” the Police Commissioner of Bengaluru Kamal Pant said in a press conference. The accused used Tor Browser, a browser which sends data encrypted texts to search dark web and procure the alleged illicit narcotics online by dealing in bitcoins. The police further said that raids that were conducted in the city’s eight spots a few days ago led to the arrest of eleven drug dealers identified as Zaman Anjameen, Mohammed Ali, Amal Baiju (a native of Changanassery in Kerala), Phoenix D Souza (an inhabitant of Thiruvananthapuram,Kerala), Sarthak Arya (a HSR layout resident), Nitin (a resident of Vijayanagar), Karthik Gowda (JP Nagar resident), S Sahzi (a resident of Marathahalli), Venkat Varun (a resident of Indiranagar) including a national of Nigeria Sanni O Innocenta residing in Benniganahalli, Bangaluru. Those arrested include a student of BCA course, a college dropout and some delivery boys and the accused were charged under Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. The city’s eight places where the police conducted raids include HSR Layout, Vijayanagar, Mahalakshmipuram, Halasuru, KG Halli, Indiranagar, HAL and Ramamurthy Nagar. Around 660 Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) papers, 386 methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) crystals, 180 ecstasy tablets, 12 grams of MDMA crystal, 10 grams cocaine powder and 12 mobile phones, three laptops, two two-wheelers and postal covers were taken into custody by the Crime Branch Police from the possession of the accused persons. The drug peddlers used to ship the narcotics to India through the postal department such as India Post as normal gifts and festive presents and on their arrival in the country, they were supplied in various schools, colleges, pubs, bars and rave parties. The packaging was done in such a way in order to avoid suspicion.
MEANING OF DAR K NET
Darknet, also described as Dark Web forms a fraction of the deep web. In the world driven by technology, we have seen many uses of the internet. Dark Net is for those people who want to make more uses of the cyberspace than just posting random photos or posts on Instagram and Facebook. The Darknet is considered to be the major drug cryptomarket which favors the use of cryptocurrency for buying or sourcing illicit drugs. It is a thriving ground for those consumers who are looking to buy drugs online paying bitcoins, a form of virtual cash. Dark Web is a network of undisclosed websites that can be accessible only on an encrypted network. In recent times, the Darknet has become a thriving ground for online drug peddlers or drug traffickers. The misuse of the Dark Web and other advanced modern technologies for trafficking illegal drugs was pointed out by India during a webinar meeting of BRICS nations. In this multi-nation conference, the anti-drug agencies also discussed about the means to curtail the increased instances of trafficking narcotics through the maritime routes and the urgent need for sharing real-time information among member nations. The BRICS include the countries such as Brazil, Russia, China, South Africa and India. A statement issued by the Home Ministry said, "Fruitful exchange of opinions concerning the drug situation in the BRICS states, the international and regional trends of illegal trafficking in narcotic drugs, psychotropic substances and their precursors, as well as the impact of various internal and external factors on the situation took place during the summit." The deep concealed internet platform is referred to as Darknet. It is used for selling and purchasing narcotics, sharing of vulgar content such as pornography and other unlawful activities using the secret mediums of the Onion Router (ToR) to stay protected from the scrutiny of the law enforcement officials.
KEY FEATURES OF THE DARKNET
- The Darknet refers to data encrypted content that is not found by traditional search engines.
- In order to access the Dark web, specific browsers such as Tor Browser must be used.
- The dark web has earned the reputation for being a haven for unlawful activities.
- The dark web helps people to maintain privacy and freely express their personal opinions.
- In the recent years, due to the increased use of modern technologies, growth of social media and widespread availability of internet, there has been a huge growth in the sale of numerous illegal narcotics online on the Darknet drug markets.
WHAT ARE THE POPULAR DRUGS THAT ARE SOLD?
The most common drugs that are sold on cryptomarkets remain the same in different markets. The drugs that are most popular in these online dark marketplaces are MDMA (also well-known as Ecstasy) pills, cannabis, stimulants like cocaine and amphetamine, and pharmaceuticals like performance enhancing drugs and sleep inducing pills. These drugs have earned their place of popularity based on the number of listings on darknet by vendors, who sell these illicit drugs and the consumer feedback ratings who purchase these drugs on the cryptomarkets without disclosing their identity. These illicit drugs are mainly procured for recreational purposes by the rave party users rather than using them for medicinal purposes as problem solvers or addictive drugs.
HOW WERE THESE ARRESTS MADE IN THIS BENGALURU INCIDE NT ?
A computer applications graduate, Keval M Lohith was arrested by the Halasuru Police on the ground that he allegedly took park in rave parties in the cities of Bengaluru and Goa, besides being a drug consumer. Bengaluru Police Commissioner Kamal Pant said the accused supposedly began working as a drug peddler with the intention of making easy money.
Kamal Pant further went on to say that he used his links of drug peddlers belonging to Africa and Nigeria for sourcing synthetic drugs and then he started to buy online synthetic drugs by using bitcoins on darknet on his own. ‘‘Then, he used his associates as delivery boys to supply the drugs to party-going youths and college students,” Kamal Pant added.
Thereafter, the Halasuru police arrested a college dropout identified as Mohammed Hifzulla alias MD who was working as an employee in a promotion company. Mohammed Hifzulla later began his event organizing company and named it as Fusion Entertainment Company where he allegedly started organizing events as well as parties in which drugs were sold and consumed. Kamla Pant further stated that in these drug parties, Hifzulla and his group started supplying the participants with drugs. He also used to supply drugs to students of schools and colleges in order to earn more money for leading a lavish life. He used to use his African and Nigerian contacts of drug peddlers to purchase cocaine, weed oil and other narcotic substances. This he used to do in addition to procuring drugs online through the dark net using bitcoins.
The police also said the two accused persons namely, Keval Lohith and Mohammed Hifzulla allegedly educated themselves on the procedures to source drugs from online forums via the dark web and procured the illicit drugs by chatting with the vendors using coded language. The two of them allegedly hired a Rapido captain named Aziz Niyaz and a delivery man of Dunzo named Guru Prasad and paid them Rs 500 per delivery to deliver the illegal drugs to their users.
In the meantime, the East Division police of Bengaluru arrested another seven persons in separate cases of drugs trafficking. Mohammed Irfan was arrested and taken into custody by the Ramamurthy Nagar Police. He was allegedly selling drugs to young students of school and college after sourcing them from different places like Mumbai, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. The officials admitted that crystal meth, heroin and marijuana were seized from his residence.
Another accused named Shaik Mohamed Yaseen was arrested by the Banaswadi Police for allegedly selling marijuana and from his place, around nineteen kg of ganja was seized by the police.
One courier delivery boy named Dilip Kumar was arrested by the DJ Halli police for allegedly selling marijuana and from his residence, around 16 kg of ganja was seized.
Another accused person, Ram Babu and Mohan Raj were arrested by the Ramamurthy Nagar Police for allegedly selling marijuana at the KR Puram Railway Station and according to official records, around 10 kg of marijuana was seized from the duo.
“In Bharathi Nagar, KG Halli, Hennur Police Stations of East Division too, cases have been registered against many drug peddlers and abusers. So far, in East Division, 294 cases have been registered against 320 persons under NDPS (Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act this year,” Kamal Pant added.
ADVANTAGES OF USING THE DARKNET
The advantages of using the Draknet are as follows:
• Anonymity- The identity of darknet users are hidden as they use the internet based Onion Router (ToR). Darknet provides a certain degree of anonymity between buyers and sellers.
• Lower Risks of Getting Caught- Only through an encrypted network, one can access the various online trading platforms from where drugs are sold including some other goods and services.
• Perceived Lower Threat to Personal Security-Network encryption helps people to maintain privacy and freely express their personal opinions.
• Use of Bitcoin- The drug users can purchase drugs through cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Monera on the dark web.
• A well integrated society- Dark web attracts potential consumers because it is easier to use dark web and access new websites that offer a high level of secrecy.
• Seamless Delivery- The drugs are sourced in India in the garb of festive parcels or gifts from outside India by post or any other mode of private delivery system.
• Criminals can be easily tracked- The dark web is a haven for criminal activities which makes it possible for the undercover police officials to track them.
• Vendors are accountable- The all-inclusive review mechanisms make the vendors accountable to the consumers. The buyers can give a rating out of five for separate qualities such as price, stealth and speed of delivery. However, one thing must be kept in mind that unlike popular e-commerce websites like Amazon, buyers can give ratings only for the purchased products and none else. Hence the practice of posting fake reviews is eliminated.
DISADVANTAGES OF USING THE DARKNET
Though the dark web empowers the common people, there are some who inevitably misuse that power. The disadvantages of using darknet are as follows:
• The dark web is based on an encrypted connection which criminals take advantage of as they can commit deep web untraceable criminal activities.
• The criminals use Bitcoins to do transactions on the darknet which practically makes it impossible to trace the source from which money is sent and the source where it is received.
For example, the combination of dark web and the virtual cashless transaction such as cryptocurrencies makes it much easier for anyone to procure guns or commit a murder.
• Though the dark web is believed to respect an individual’s privacy, it can also be used to violate someone’s private space by stealing or sharing his/her photos, confidential information, financial data and medical history records.
• Some basic internet knowledge along with some awareness of dark web is all that is needed to become a criminal online on the cryptomarkets.
• The increased use of technologies have made these new type of crimes rampant but the cyber crime officials are not trained enough to use techniques to track these criminals and curb such crimes.
EARLIER INSTANCES OF PROCURING DRUGS ONLINE
Various serious offen s es such as child sexual exploitation, terrorism in cyberspace, hacking financial data, illegal weapons trafficking, identity theft etc committed by users on the darknet. Drug trafficking is the single most important unlawful offence done through the dark net. The founder of Silk Road named Ross Ulbricht, a computer scientist was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment in the year 2015 for creating and operating the dark net market website, Silk Road. When it received widespread media attention, the people could not believe it to be real as before the discovery of the Silk Road, the idea of anonymously trafficking drugs through the Darknet was uncommon. The Silk Road began operating in 2011 and continued its operation till the year 2013 until the U.S. government completely shut its operation. It was a global marketplace resembling eBay or Amazon and including drugs trafficking and illegal weapons sales. Silk Road was the foremost “cryptomarket” for drugs where users paid in cryptocurrencies without disclosing their real identities. Similar other marketplaces followed after FBI banned the operation of the darknet marketplace Silk Road in 2013. As of January 2020, there are more than 2,000 cryptocurrencies, more than 50 cryptomarkets and vendor shops where anonymous sellers and buyers find each other to engage in illegal drug trade.
The lack of trained professionals in the law enforcement machinery, legal impediments, poor coordination among international enforcement agencies, use of ‘‘exit scams’’ in which an admin on cryptomarket hurriedly closes down the site and takes away all the funds, lack of surveillance, lack of prioritizing high-end crimes, etc. are some of the challenges faced to curb illicit trading of drugs online on the dark net. The serious offences such as sexual exploitation of a child, cyber terrorism, weapons buying, etc. should be given priority in order to eliminate the unlawful activities on the dark web. The work should be carried out by the joint effort of the agencies and various autonomous ‘ethical’ drug sites to understand the criminal propensity on the dark net in the twenty-first century. A particular site can be closed down through proper surveillance by the enforcement agencies and hacking. But it is not always successful in closing down the complex business of illicit trade in drugs as hidden drug markets starts booming with the help of modern advanced technologies. The whole idea of maintaining anonymity attracts consumers to use these forums and chat online with vendors and buy easily any drug knowing fully their effects and uses. Keeping aside the technological and legal challenges, undoubtedly the dark web serves as a new form of medium for drug users and drug vendors.