Technology and criminal defense are merging in the case of a website owner who was arrested for conspiracy, computer fraud and other criminal charges. The criminal charges stem from a website that allowed users to buy and sell illegal drugs using the popular online currency Bitcoin. And now, crowdsourcing is helping the accused pay for his legal defense.
Owner of the Silk Road Facing Charges
Ross William Ulbricht owned and operated a website commonly known as the “Silk Road.” The website allegedly allowed users to buy and sell items, including illegal drugs, anonymously. The site used the currency Bitcoin, a virtual, non-physical form of money that has been growing in popularity partly because its users can remain anonymous. In acting as a portal and virtual marketplace, the site allegedly collected fees to the tune of $1.6 billion in sales.
Ulbricht allegedly encountered a problem when a rogue user threatened to expose the identities of Silk Road users, unless he was paid a hefty ransom. Of course, doing so would entirely jeopardize the existence of the website, so Ulbricht allegedly used the site himself to find and hire a hitman to kill the rogue user. This wasn’t difficult to do, thanks again to the website’s anonymity, which allegedly allowed him to advertise and find the potential hitman to carry out the job. Ulbricht is presumed innocent of all allegations unless found guilty in a court of law.
Ulbricht’s Rise to Fame
After his arrest, Ulbricht became somewhat of a hero to Bitcoin and former Silk Road users. Bitcoin users view Ulbricht as having sacrificed himself for the viability of the online, anonymous free market that Bitcoin users cherish. His supporters have even begun raising money for him to finance his criminal defense though crowdsourcing, which is an online public solicitation for individuals to make donations to a cause or business. Other operators of online anonymous portals have also donated money to Ulbricht’s defense.
The case is also legally notable in that Ulbricht is being charged not just for allegedly trying to hire the hitman, but also for simply hosting the site that allegedly allowed others to make numerous illegal drug transactions. Rarely is a website owner criminally responsible for actions by others that occur on their own sites. Ulbricht’s own attorney points out that being charged with criminal conspiracy and money laundering seemingly have nothing to do with hosting a website.
And then of course, there’s the question of whether one can launder money using Bitcoin, which isn’t legally recognized as a currency by the United States.
If he is found guilty, it could stifle other internet sites due to fears by web hosters of being liable for what users of their sites are doing and saying. Owners of controversial sites or those which may push the boundaries of the law but aren’t necessarily illegal could be targets of criminal investigations. Hosting charges for websites that contain message boards or marketplaces could skyrocket, as many hosting services could refuse to host their sites for fear of liability.
The criminal defense attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC have extensive experience defending the Constitutional rights of individuals that have been charged with a crime. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime in Maryland, contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today