Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Deep Web and a Laissez-faire economy

Whilst researching my book The Illusion of Reality: A Public Servant's Secret Essays I found, perhaps not so unexpectedly given the nature of the book, that I was taking stock of examples of phenomena that on first blush seemed somewhat intuitive and understandable (even by me) and yet behind which lay paradigms seen (sometimes only as faint glimpses) only by a few of the brightest minds in history. Pythagoras and his contemporaries saw the Earth as round, Einstein understood that space and time are effectively one and the same; Watson and Crick described the structure of DNA and the double helix.

So, history tells us that there is always more than what meets the eye, there is always another story. Where there’s smoke there’s fire; behind indulgent binges, benders and late night capitulation; behind the corpse in the reserve, behind the ghost on the road, behind exaggerated, audacious prerogatives there is always another story.

Other stories, other views are not necessarily always a product of choice, a product of intentional abstruseness. Some stories are best attempts at making meaning of the time. Many ancient cultures, for example, subscribed to a flat Earth cosmography. The Israelites, Mesopotamians and others conceived the Earth as a flat disc floating on water beneath an arced firmament separating it from the heavens; a flat land at the bottom of the universe.

Today, looking up at the night sky; we see stars as far as our eyes can see. Through telescopes we see more. But not even the best telescopes can glean the elements of the universe. It turns out that stars, planets, moons, galaxies, and other oddities like human beings and black holes make up only 5% of the known universe. The remaining 95% of the universe is made up of something; something we haven’t the foggiest about - dark energy and dark matter.  Stuff that can't been seen, detected or explained.

There is, also another oddity that has been living amongst us for the greater part of 20 years. And, like dark energy and dark matter and as coincidence go is approximately 95% of the normal world – the Internet world. It turns out that the “Dark Web/Deep Web” is about 500 times the size of the Surface Web; the Web that friendly browsers such as Google and Bing can search.

There is a good chance you are one of about 3.5 Billion people who use Google to search the Surface Web on a daily basis. And the closest you’ve come to see the dark side has been through the many television and film dramatizations of late.

For instance, and if you’re a fan of the American political drama House of Cards, you’ll recall when stalwart and unkempt reporter Lucas Goodwin wanted to dig into the dark deeds of nefarious Vice President Frank Underwood, a techie friend helped Goodwin get onto the Deep Web and make contact with the hacking underworld. And, as I recall it didn’t end well.
Searching the Deep Web is in itself not illegal. In fact the Military, Police and journalists look into the Deep Web, one presumes out of necessity. Let’s not forget whistle-blowers either. Think Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. Whilst searching the Deep Web may not be illegal, much of the activities that use the Deep Web as a popular nesting ground are. For example The Silk Road, also known as the eBay of drugs became such a popular site.
Buyers and sellers can transact on a laundry list of products and services.  In a sense, it’s a thriving marketplace for illicit drugs, counterfeit documents, child pornography, weapons and even hit men for hire.

I use the word “transact” purposefully and for two reasons; the first is obvious – a thriving marketplace demands the hustle and bustle of a community trading in wares making the Deep Web probably the most of the  Laissez-faire economies. According to the FBI, the Silk Road alone had cleared an estimated US$1.2 billion in a brief three-year existence.

Secondly, transactions need some form of an agreed currency; but not any currency. You don’t want to buy an AK-47 using your Visa card. But you may use a relatively new digital currency called Bitcoin. Bitcoin is essentially a virtual currency as well as a consensus network that enables a payment system created and held electronically. When I last looked, one Bitcoin was trading at AU$388. It’s easy to see why Bitcoin has become a popular currency in the Deep Web; it allows users to conduct business anonymously. It’s interesting to note that the Bitcoin, like other currencies is not immune from geo-political as well as geo-economic events. When in June 2011 the US senate investigated links between Bitcoin and the Silk Road, the value of the Bitcoin dropped over 90%. The FBI located and arrested the “Dread Pirate Roberts” of Silk Road in November 2011. With the relaunch of Silk Road (Silk Road 2.0) in November 2013 Bitcoin tripled in value.

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