October 1st, 2018 marks Ross Ulbricht’s fifth year in prison. The case, which riveted the global community, polarised American society and stimulated intense debate about drug use.
His trial was one of the first attempts by a government to regulate the unpredictable dark-web populated by everyone from hackers and criminals to people concerned about their privacy.
The Silk Road was an online marketplace inspired by the libertarian principles of privacy and freedom. Accessible through the Tor browser, the website put weapons, drugs and even hitmen services within reach of anyone with a computer.
In 2013, a jury determined that Mr. Ulbricht had founded the notorious black market website; he was subsequently convicted on counts of computer hacking, money laundering, conspiracy to traffic narcotics and conspiracy to traffic fraudulent identity documents.
Many supporters of the notorious darknet operator feel overzealous federal agents made an example of him.
Followers of the #FreeRoss movement point to a lack of evidence in trials and the non-violent nature of Mr. Ulbricht’s convictions. They see Silk Road as an alternative to the largely unsuccessful ‘war on drugs’ being waged by politicians.
They were optimistic that street violence and crime might lower as the marketplace for illegal goods moved into the digital sphere. The website offered a stable and protected platform for transactions and brought the drug trade off the street.
On the other hand, some followed Senator Chuck Schumer’s lead and saw the Silk Road as a digital den of sin. In a letter to congress the Senator opined that:
“A user can create an account on Silk Road and start purchasing illegal drugs from individuals around the world. [They could get drugs] delivered to their homes within days.”
Silk Road was unregulated, and with murder and addiction only a click away, Ross Ulbricht’s business brought a hidden American underworld into daylight.
Here was a reality that many people did not want to see.
An Update from Prison
After the trial, Ross Ulbricht moved from New York to a high-security federal prison in Colorado. His family visits regularly.
“When I’m in Colorado I can see him three times a week for five hours a day,” mother Lyn Ulbricht told radio host Peter McCormack. “It’s great, we get to hang out.”
“Ross gets 300 minutes a month and when that runs out he can’t call,” Lyn explained. “If they’re on lockdown, which they have been quite a bit in this particular prison, there are no phone calls.”
According to Lyn, her son is making the most of his time incarcerated. He tutors fellow inmates and helped one to earn his GED.
Four cellmates even wrote letters for the Free Ross Organisation, describing their friend as generous and kind.
In one letter Davit Mirzoyan, an inmate at MCC, wrote that “Ross is genuinely interested in the welfare [sic] of others. He is well-educated and gives freely of his time.”
But even as he adapts to imprisonment, it is clear for many that Ross Ulbricht does not deserve his sentence. They hope the next five years will bring about another opportunity to appeal.
Liz is a Canadian journalist and writer for Bitcoin Australia. Connect with her on Twitter @Elizabeth_Utley, or on Linkedin as Elizabeth Utley.