Capitol

Why The Deep Web Has Washington Worried

(TIME/Swampland) Washington has no idea what to make of the Dread Pirate Roberts.

As Lev Grossman and I write in this week’s cover story, the Dread Pirate Roberts allegedly ran the Silk Road, the world’s most successful online drug bazaar, until the feds caught him earlier this month. His real name, according to a 39-page federal complaint against him, is Ross Ulbricht, 29. He supposedly took the pseudonym from a character in the movie and book, “The Princess Bride.” In the Silk Road, DPR, as his followers called him, created a business model for anyone wanting to sell illicit items online using free encryption software called Tor and the virtually anonymous cryptocurrency Bitcoin. Though the feds have taken Silk Road offline, there are plenty of folks lining up to be the next Dread Pirate Roberts.

Lev and I examine the greater implications of the Deep Web, the massive and growing anonymous area of the Internet. But from the perspective of lawmakers and law enforcement in Washington, Silk Road presents a double conundrum. It’s a blueprint for criminals the world over at a time when FBI resources are stretched thin and political will to empower government snooping has cratered. And it has created a regulatory headache in figuring how to deal with whole new currencies, tax havens and virtual online markets.