For a few years until 2013, people who wanted to buy or sell drugs illegally on the Internet frequently found their way to a network known as the “Silk Road.” The network, which has been referred to as a “darknet” because of its efforts to conceal the identities and the transactions of its users, came under intense scrutiny from federal government prosecutors who traced its activities across the country. Their efforts effectively degraded if not closed down the network, at least temporarily, and culminated with the recent conviction in federal court of its creator, Ross Ulbricht.

Ulbricht, who went by the darknet moniker “Dread Pirate Roberts,” could face imprisonment for up to 30 years. He has also been accused of attempting to arrange the murders of six people because he allegedly thought that they posed a threat to the anonymity and operations of the Silk Road.

The tactics and techniques used by federal agents and federal attorneys offer a glimpse into the various ways that they use to investigate and prosecute Internet crimes. They monitored Bitcoin transactions (an alternative and supposedly anonymous way to make purchases online) and chat logs, including supposedly secure servers and social media sites. Nor did they confine their activities to the virtual world; federal agents placed Ulbricht under physical surveillance, arresting him in a public library as he was logging onto a notebook computer using a Silk Road alias.

One lesson to take away from this case is that if you are accused of an Internet crime in New Jersey, it is possible or even likely that the activities of others in different states or even foreign countries can also be entwined with the illegal acts with which you have been charged, and that multiple federal agencies will be involved against you. In such an eventuality, you will need the services of a legal defense team that is already familiar with federal prosecutions, federal laws, federal rules of criminal procedure and federal courts.

You can count on the federal government to bring to bear a vast array of both technical and legal resources against you. The protection of your legal rights, including any possibility of acquittal or at least mitigation of the charges against you, is also something that you will need to count on.

Source: PC World, “5 technologies that betrayed Silk Road’s anonymity,” Joab Jackson, Feb. 9, 2015

Secondary source: USA Today, “Silk Road mastermind tied to alleged murder plot,” Kevin McCoy, Feb. 2, 2015