The Current

Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht's conviction threatens internet freedom

Today we take you to a dark corner of the internet known as the Deep Web. It involves a website, Silk Road, where content is not visible through search engines. The FBI shut down the site and convicted the man they say was the mastermind, but internet activists fear question whether laws were followed.
Supporters of Ross Ulbricht, behind the Silk Road underground market, protest on the first day of jury selection for his trial. Ulbricht, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused by the US government of making millions of dollars from the Silk Road website which sold drugs anonymously. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It was January 2013, that a trial many consider momentous for the future of the internet, got under way in New York City. At its centre was a website called Silk Road. It's been described as an online black market. The FBI says more than 100,000 people used it, largely for buying and selling illicit drugs.

But it wasn't a website you could easily access using your favourite browser. It existed in a different part of the internet... one that can only be accessed through a software service called "Tor." And while you may recall the media coverage Silk Road attracted as a place for trafficking drugs.

Silk Road's creators claimed their real motivation in setting it up was as a libertarian, free market ideology and the quest to create a truly open marketplace. Federal Prosecutors arrested one of the site's administrators who called himself the Dread Pirate Roberts. They say his real identity is Ross Ulbricht, a 30-year-old from San Francisco. He was convicted and next month will face sentencing for his role in the site.

But not everyone believes they have the right man.

A new documentary film titled "Deep Web," tells the Silk Road story in full. It will be screening next week as part of the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto, and the film's director, Alex Winter joined us from Los Angeles.

Lyn Ulbricht is the mother of Ross Ulbricht, the American man convicted for his role in running the Silk Road website. She was in Lakeville, Connecticut. Ross Ulbricht's sentencing is scheduled for May 15.

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This segment was produced by The Current's Josh Bloch.