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Bitcoin, the Dark Web and India

The advent of the internet has made the dreams of many people possible with a few clicks and keystrokes, especially in poorer parts of the world. The internet and digital currencies have opened the door for hundreds of thousands of Indian freelance developers, writers, graphic designers, etc., to make money online throughout the last decade. The emergence of bitcoin created even newer possibilities for Indian freelancers and online entrepreneurs as the popularity of bitcoin has been surging in India during the past couple of years. On the other hand, bitcoin is also being used by Indians across various marketplaces on the dark web, which mostly involve merchandise that is considered illegal under many jurisdictions. A recently published paper delved into the impact imposed by the usage of bitcoin across the dark web on the Indian society, so let’s take a look at some of the interesting information presented by this paper.

India with approximately a population of one billion, is sometimes described as the “engineers’ hub”. Ahead of the Indian government’s recent decision to demonetize the 500 and 100 rupees banknotes, along with the governmental efforts to boost digital transactions along the way to establish a cashless economy, Indians are increasingly resorting to cryptocurrencies as a safe haven to shelter themselves against a collapsing economy.

The Indian Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) is the official entity responsible for controlling the use of narcotics in India; however, no legislations exist in India to control illegal activities taking place on the dark web. The Information Technology Act 2000 represents the Indian law that convicts cybercrimes. Even though many cybercrimes have been reported in India in 2015, no prosecutions have involved illegal activities taking place on the dark web.

The popularity of bitcoin in India has been rising steadily since 2014, yet the rate of rise increased dramatically throughout the past year, as shown by the below chart. This rise in interest reflects heightened awareness of Indians about the great potential of the blockchain technology and it also indicates that Indians are shielding themselves against the continuous drop in the value of the Indian Rupee by converting their savings into bitcoin. Bitcoin startups, such as Zebpay, are aiding in simplifying the usage of bitcoin, which can be rather complicated for non-tech savvy individuals, to Indians and is helping them buy and sell various merchandise via bitcoin.

On the other hand, some Indians seek the dark web to proxy their illegal activities and businesses, during the past couple of years, many reports showed that Indians use the dark web to order illegal drugs. Even more, some reports claim that Indian vendors are playing a significant role on some prominent dark web marketplaces. A recent report showed that some of the top vendors on some dark web marketplaces are from developing parts of the world such as China, India and Brazil. Buying and selling illegal drugs on the dark web are punishable by the Information Technology Act 2000; nevertheless, law enforcement agencies in India are almost clueless about how to track activities taking place over TOR, according to the author of the paper. Even more, a considerable percentage of police officers in India don’t even know that there are such forms of illegal marketplaces on the dark web.

Google trends for bitcoin searches in India have been rising almost exponentially during the past couple of years as shown via the below chart.

Many examples of discussions regarding how to buy psychedelic and other illegal drugs by Indians can be found on questions and answers networks like Quora and Reddit. These discussions denote that some Indians are already buying drugs via bitcoin on dark web marketplaces. The following comment from Reddit shows how it is easy for Indians to purchase drugs over the dark web:

” I ordered 20 150 mcg acid blotters from the original Silk Road. It took two months to come and it was not LSD. Probably something from the NBOMe series. Still fun though. After that, I’ve ordered MDMA, LSD, DMT, Ketamine and Adderall multiple times on Silk Road 2 and Agora. After my first experience, I made sure to test all my drugs before using with a 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 Interest for Bitcoins:India 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 Interest for Bitcoins: World stockpile of Ehrlich reagent I had shipped to me. Fortunately, since then all the drugs I’ve received have been clean. I faced problems twice, but the vendors have always been nice enough to ship more. Delivery takes anywhere between 1-2 months.”

The data presented in this paper shows how Indian law enforcement agencies lack the skills and knowledge needed to counteract various illegal activities involving bitcoin and the dark web in India. Right now, the dark web is totally out of reach of Indian police officials, so Indians are technically buying and selling freely over various dark web marketplaces.

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