Two years after the darknet market Silk Road launched, the FBI shut it down, and seized the Bitcoin funds of sellers and buyers that were held there. They proceeded to arrest the person they felt was the owner and founder, Ross William Ulbricht. Ulbricht’s pseudonym on the site’s forums was “Dread Pirate Roberts” or “DPR” for short. Just a few days ago, Ulbricht lost his appeal and will serve life in prison. He has no possibility for parole.
The Silk Road
For the readers who may not fully know, the Silk Road was a darknet marketplace that was primarily used for drug purchasing and selling with Bitcoin being the form of payment. This may be one of the reasons that Bitcoin was treated by many non-users with scrutiny, as they felt its only use was for nefarious activity online.
It launched in February of 2011 and many users would just treat it as a marketplace. This means they would go purchase or sell their goods then leave. Others also used it as more of a community, and the forum section would buzz with conversation. The site’s administrator, DPR, would even slum it with the common user in this section.
Who was Dread Pirate Roberts, and did the right guy just lose an appeal?
Well, officially DPR is Ross William Ulbricht. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced. The evidence that is there does suggest that his involvement in the management of the Silk Road was intimate. When he was arrested he was even logged in to the silk road under a “mastermind” url path of the Silk Road -aka he was logged in as an administrator-.
These facts alone mean he broke multiple laws and the US Justice system agreed, however the arrests and trials may not have been fair. Firstly, the manner in which the FBI came to find the location of the Silk Road’s servers in Iceland and Germany is dubious at best. It suggested that the FBI had to employ less than legal means to acquire such information. Also some of the most damning documents critical to his conviction may have been submitted in violation of the Fourth Amendment, meaning it would be a miscarriage of Justice. This is the argument that Ulbricht’s defense made in the appeal, which he lost.
Finally, I want to bring attention to his pseudonym itself. Dread Pirate Roberts is the name of a pirate from The Princess Bride a book written by William Goldman that was adapted into a movie. (Spoilers) In watching this film we find out that the pirate -Dread Pirate Roberts- that frees the Princess from captivity but helps her run away from the evil Prince is actually her old paramore, Westley. The reason I bring any of this up is because of the nature of the Dread Pirate Roberts in this film. Goldman’s DPR is not one person, but rather a lineage of people who inherit and gift that name.
What I do not think is so outlandish to suggest is that maybe Ulbricht was not the only Dread Pirate Roberts? The avatar for DPR’s account was even Westley dressed as the Dread Pirate Roberts. Could it have been an inherited title and position? Were there multiple DPRs acting concurrently under the same account? Is Ulbricht the only one who should be receiving such a sentence?
If this topic interests you, I suggest that you watch the documentary about this case called “Deep Web.” Currently it is on Amazon Prime and you should be able to find it elsewhere if you are not a prime member. It is an hour and a half long, and it is incredibly interesting.
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