In 2015, the man behind darknet drug marketplace Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, received two consecutive life sentences from a New York judge. Her rationale was that Ulbricht was no different than a “dangerous Bronx drug dealer.” No leniency was given. The government, which participated in its own share of misconduct during the investigation, argued Ulbricht should be personally financially-responsible for every drug transaction on the Silk Road: a total of $184 million.
The government got its win — all of it. But it was only temporary. Silk Road 2.0 swiftly took the original’s place, run by another young man who knew he was going to be pursued by law enforcement across the world as soon as he fired it up. Long before it was shut down, Silk Road 2.0 was double the size of the original Silk Road, proving once again that sellers and buyers of illicit substances will find each other, no matter how many roadblocks governments erect.
The operator of this marketplace was arrested in San Francisco — just like Albricht was. But that’s where their stories drastically diverge. For one, the person arrested in San Francisco was not the founder of Silk Road 2.0. That title belonged to Dread Pirate Roberts 2 (DPR2). That person, Thomas White, was arrested by the UK’s National Crime Agency.
Unlike Ulbricht’s prosecution — which played out in public thanks to our justice system’s presumption of openness — White’s prosecution occurred in secret, shielded from the public eye by UK law. White was arrested in 2014, but his sentence has only now been handed down. Ulbricht got two life sentences and $184 million in fees from a US court for running the Silk Road. The creator of Silk Road 2.0 — doing double the business of Silk Road 1.0 at its peak — is looking to be out of prison years before his inspiration sees freedom.
[A] court in Liverpool, England, sentenced Thomas White, a technologist and privacy activist, for crimes committed in part while running Silk Road 2 under the DPR2 persona, among other crimes committed under another persona. White pleaded guilty to drug trafficking, money laundering, as well as making indecent images of children, and was sentenced to a total of 5 years and 4 months in prison.
There’s your compare-and-contrast. In the US, drug crimes are the worst crimes. In the UK, crimes are crimes and the rehabilitation prisons can’t provide are recognized and people are sentenced accordingly. I’m sure the DOJ is marveling at this miscarriage of justice and wondering why they bothered pitching in with an investigation that only resulted in a 5-year prison sentence.
And where Ulbricht spent his time locked up pretrial, thanks to the government getting his bail denied because of two murder-for-hire charges it later dropped, Thomas White spent his time out in the open with access to a computer. As Joseph Cox points out, White was pretty well-known in the world of security research, thanks to contributions he made while awaiting trial and sentencing.
On Twitter he mused about security and privacy topics, and has appeared under his own name in articles in Motherboard, Forbes, and more as an expert on Tor and other subjects. He previously ran a website archiving large data breaches that anyone could download, including the MySpace breach, data from hacked affairs website Ashley Madison, and customer information from a Muslim-focused dating site called ‘Muslim Match.’
Our government argues lengthy sentences for drug cases are needed to deter others from drug dealing. Seeing how quickly the new Silk Road replaced Ulbricht’s version makes it clear lengthy sentences aren’t deterring anything. I’m not even sure the DOJ believes its own bullshit at this point. Prison is punishment and our system is set up to provide as much punishment as possible in every case. Other places in the world recognize the limited societal value of taking decades away from people for selling products people want to buy.