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Social good, or social justice as I will
continue to refer to it, is a widely contested concept that, like all contested
subjects, raise dispute about how they are to best achieved1. This leads
me to reflect on the many different themes surrounding social justice, that
will enable me to consider whether the combination of the Dark Web and digital
currencies is just illegitimate or whether it does promote some social justice.

I will also consider whether the actions of legal enforcement involving the
Dark Web, themselves, promote or inhibit social justice.

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Social Justice is said to have a dual
function, in that it is concerned with providing social justice for individuals
and in turn, producing socially just individuals. Legal positivism takes the
stance that the role of law is to seek to promote justice where it can, not
that there is a natural relationship between law and justice. Natural justice
is the idea that law itself is derived from natural, instinctive morals and in
order for a law to be viable it has to be in accordance with these fundamental
principles that resonate in nature. I am going to be coming from a legal positivist
point of view within my own thinking, and most of my secondary sources.


There is equality evident in the use of the
Dark Web, because the use of anonymity allows for a ‘veil of ignorance2,’
which American philosopher John Rawls hypothesised. In Rawls’ theory, in order
to see justice as fairness we must all start from a position of ignorance, that
puts us all on the same footing. We are unaware of our class; status; gender
etc. these factors are meaningless in the ‘original position.’ Here it is clear
to see that this type of thinking is evident on the Dark Web as the anonymity
means that we are unaware of anyone’s class or status, rendering them factors
meaningless and putting us all in a position of equality. Here it is clear to
see the social justice that emerges from the use of the Dark Web, in
combination with cryptocurrency, as the upholding of the valuable principle of
equality is helping to achieve justice as fairness, by Rawls’ understanding. The
manner in which legal enforcement sets out to deanonymise Dark Web users, using
tor cracking software, can be seen to be inhibiting the crucial principle of equality
within justice, as the law is restoring people from equals to a
disproportionate classification.

Moving on in the vein of legal positivism,
if we are to assume that the role of law is to promote justice, we can then be
left to question why it is that the US government created Tor, released it into
the public domain3 and continue to fund it4. Tor is an
integral aspect of the Dark Web, as it is where the anonymity comes from. The US
government released Tor into the public domain in order for their own messages
to be secret and hidden, because the more people who used the software, the
more hidden and protected their secrets would be.3 To me, this a
clear example of the law inhibiting justice. The US government created the
software that is used in abundance on the Dark Web, and despite this, different
branches of the US government, such as the NSA5, set out to
criminalise the users. Whilst it is true that the use of Tor is not inherently
illegal, it is certainly a factor that without this software Dark Web
criminalists would not have a safe platform to commit their offences, and so
the US government are in part responsible for the mis-deeds, as they allowed
them to occur.

The US government’s motive seems to be from
a form of consequentialism, known as utilitarianism, the idea stemming from the
work of John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham, that the ends justify the means6.

This is in stark contrast with Immanuel Kant, and his Kantian ethics that
follows the principle of universalizability. This principle prescribes that
acting morally promotes justice for everyone, and the morally just maxims are
those, and only those, which can be universalised.7 And so, the US
Government’s actions may, in utilitarian terms, be acceptable in terms of the
outcome of keeping confidential secrets hidden, however cannot be said to be
promoting social justice as the maxim of creating the anonymous software,
making it public and not controlling its users, cannot be universalised.


Next, I will consider the main uses of the
Dark Web in combination with cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. The two named
uses that take up 32% of the Dark Web correlates to child pornography and drugs8,
both illegal and both arguably immoral.  Whilst
the use of child porn is agreed upon to be immoral and the worst use of the
Dark Web, the use for drugs is widely contested as to whether it is immoral or
merely a safer option to a problem that isn’t going to disappear. The Dark Web
whilst stereotypically is thought to harbour the most dangerous, criminal
masterminds, surprisingly has been a source of advice and help regarding drugs
for a lot of people. The Silk Road, the first known considerable market-place
on the Dark Web to be shut down by the FBI and NSA, was used to sell drugs but
within this, a man operated who went by the name of Doctor X9. Doctor
X was a family physician in real life, but in the cyber world was a guru
offering the most up to date information on the risks of combining drugs or
taking them when suffering from mental conditions and so forth. Not only this,
but he did it free of charge, accepting Bitcoins if people wished to. Here,
this is an example of equality of opportunity, whereby anyone can receive the same
help and advice, they have equal chance to access the benefits, a form of
equality pioneered by John Rawls10. This can be seen to be promoting
social justice as, in accordance with Rawls’ justice as fairness liberty is an
exceedingly important concept, and the freedom exercised by buying drugs off
the Dark Web in combination with the equality of opportunity of guidance
promotes two important principles of social justice: liberty and equality.  


Whilst it may be argued that the use of
drugs is never safe and illegal so can never be legitimate, this argument has a
naïve tone, as it is clear to law enforcement and society that no matter what
safeguards are put in place people will access illicit drugs and take them, so
by offering everyone help and guidance about how to do this safely, the Dark
Web can be seen to be promoting social justice. Indeed, the illegality of drugs
makes this argument a hard pill to swallow as it widely accepted, in the legal
positivist tone, that laws should reflect and promote justice, and so if
something is against the law, it can’t be seen to be promoting justice. However,
this could be another example of the law inhibiting justice. As the process of
taking drugs does not involve infringing the rights of another individual,
surely it is an individual’s basic liberty of freedom to be able to do so,
without inhibiting social justice. Furthermore, the process of obtaining drugs
from the Dark Web has safeguards in place, such as previous customer reviews,
quality control and anonymity making it less dangerous than street deals12,
and seemingly promotes negative liberty, in that the individual has freedom
from state interference.

I’m next going to analyse the case of Ross
Ulbricht, otherwise known as Dread Pirate Roberts, and his motives for creating
the Silk Road. Creator and ‘Kingpin’ Ross Ulbricht graduated as a physics major
from Penn state in 2008, when he discovered his newest passion: libertarianism.

He decided that he wanted to create an ‘economic simulation’ that would show
people a world without the ‘systemic use of force13.’ The Silk Road,
before it was shut down, was not regulated by government control, including
criminal law13, which can be seen to be promoting his love of libertarianism.

Austrian economist and philosopher Freidrich Hayek believes justice to be
centred upon the maximisation of freedom and individual liberty14. His
main concern is that the coercion of some people onto others is reduced as much
as possible in society14, and in this social justice prevails, as
liberty is achieved. Ulbricht followed this principle in as much as he could in
the creation of the Silk Road, hoping only to achieve a utopian state, away
from coercion and control. Despite the prohibition of the criminal law in his
actions, he can be said to be promoting social justice as his purpose was to
maximise liberty and give the power back to the people. It may be granted that
the Silk Road offered a platform to the most dangerous and immoral members of
society, but this is in no way different to the platform that criminals have
offline, the only change being that the fundamental principle of liberty is


The only example of illegitimacy and inhibition
of social justice that I can see from the case of the Silk Road is that of the
FBI in investigating it. Throughout the trial, controversies have been
numerous. First off, precedence has not been followed in terms of what can be
accepted as evidence. Last year, in the case of United States vs Vayner15 screenshots were considered inadmissible
evidence, whereas in Ulbricht’s trial Judge Katherine Forrest ruled against
this defence motion16. The lack of following precedence shows a move
away from formal equality whereby similar sets of facts require similar outcomes17.

Furthermore, it was found out that the FBI had hacked into a site, without a
warrant, in order to reveal its IP address and location. The defence argued the
Fourth Amendment18 in that a warrantless hack is an illegal search16
but, again, this argument was the eyes of legal positivism,
laws reflect justice, and so if laws aren’t accepted, social justice will not
prevail. Lastly, it was ruled that the 6 apparent ‘murders-for-hire’ that
Ulbricht was thought to have paid for, can be used in his trial as part of the
prosecutions argument, despite the fact that the murders didn’t take place and
Ulbricht was not found guilty. The examples are copious whereby it is plain to
see the inhibition of social justice in Ulbricht’s trial, yet the sole creation
of the Silk Road seems, to me, to be promoting equality and liberty. It should
also be noted the harshness of the sentence that Ulbricht received, despite the
fact it was found that two FBI agents were corrupt, his sentence is not being
reassessed as unfair due to the argument given by Judge Forrest “democratically-elected
representatives of the people have opted for a policy of prohibition backed by
severe punishment19.” This argument leads me on to my final point in
this essay, which is about democracy.


Democracy is widely considered to be an
overarching theme of justice, in that there are deep internal connections
between the two principles20.  In order for democracy to achieve its aims it
must promote liberty, freedom and justice21. Clear examples of
democracy can be seen on the Dark Web, as it is free from state interference
and coercion and in turn, is run by the people for the people. Furthermore, the
use of Bitcoin is considered to be the ultimate democratic tool22. This
is due to the fact that the protocol of Bitcoin, not the currency bitcoin,
ensures that no person can be impersonated, and that each individual has a say
and we can guarantee that it is, in fact, that person casting their vote. The reason
that Bitcoin is thought to be redefining democracy is due to the fact the
democracy we’re supposed to be a part of offline is failing readily. Money and
democracy have been intertwined since the beginning stages of civilisation and
the biggest issue with democracy in the real world today is the manner in which
the wealthy govern money in order to benefit themselves rather than the general
consensus of society, leading to even more inequality23. This can be
linked back to the philosophy of John Rawls who believed that in order to
achieve equality of condition, which promotes the most actual equality, society
has to transfer wealth and benefits from the most well off in society to the
least in order to actively combat inequalities. This is clearly not apparent in
modern day ‘democracy,’ which leads us to look elsewhere for the liberty,
freedom and justice that we would be entitled to in a pure democratic state. These
principles are plain to see within the protocol of Bitcoin, which operates
differently to central banks, in that transactions are recorded within a
blockchain that can only be edited by the relevant parties in the transaction. Moreover,
money supply is controlled by central banks who can increase the amount of
money in circulation by printing more, altering its value, whereas the value of
Bitcoin is secured within the laws of supply and demand23.  The contrast between Bitcoin and central banks
is clear in the fact that even the creator does not have the power to alter the
Bitcoin-code without the consent of every other user23. Furthermore,
when the value of Bitcoin rises, the owners of Bitcoin become proportionally
richer23. This is utter democracy in action, and a stark contrast
between the power-hungry groups at the top controlling the banking system. 

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