A few months ago I listened to the fascinating story of Ross Ulbricht. If you don’t know who this man is, you’ve been living under a crypto rock. Ross is the man who created The Silk Road, an online marketplace that was located on the dark web and used to sell drugs and many other things in exchange for Bitcoin. Ross was eventually caught in 2013 and given a double life sentence for creating this marketplace, and has now served 5 years of his sentence.
The brilliant thing about this marketplace is that it was one of the first places where Bitcoin could be used to buy products, and it also created a safe environment in which people could purchase their drugs. I’m not a drug user, but if I were, I would much rather purchase my drugs via an online marketplace like the Silk Road than from someone on the street. Dealers on the Silk Road built up reputations based on the quality of their product, so you’d have some confidence that the product you were purchasing was as advertised and of decent quality.
The Silk Road was incredibly successful, and Ross made many millions of dollars worth of Bitcoin during the time that he operated the site. It is estimated that Ross made more than 600,000 bitcoins in commissions from the site which, in todays value of Bitcoin, would be worth roughly US $4.9 billion.
Ross’s story is fascinating stuff, and well worth reading or listening to. I’m not going to recount the story here as I don’t believe I can do it justice. So I would encourage you to listen to the Casefile Podcast which gives a good run-down of the story. You can find Part 1 of the podcast here.
I will include one caveat here though; this podcast tells the story based on the court proceedings and documents only, it fails to provide the story from Ross’s or his family’s perspective. There are a lot of problems with this case, and many errors made during the judgement. There are even examples of tampering with evidence which went unchallenged along with apparent corruption throughout the proceedings. You can read about this at the Free Ross website, this is also an interesting read and partly why I am writing this post today.
I am writing this post today because Ross has received a double life sentence for creating his online marketplace. His crime was not violent, and those who were convicted of selling drugs on his marketplace received much lesser sentences.
The reality is that Ross was much like the creator of Amazon or Ebay. He provided the platform for the sale of these products, but wasn’t responsible for every item that was listed on the marketplace. Sure, he sold some magic mushrooms and possibly some weed but he wasn’t the sole distributor on the platform. In fact he sold substantially less product on the platform in comparison to most of the dealers who used his platform.
There have been examples of child pornography on Facebook, of Amazon selling cyanide to a young girl who then committed suicide, and many other examples of online marketplaces being used for questionable activities. But the CEOs and owners of these marketplaces have never been sent to jail.
Ross should not be serving a double life sentence, he should not have been charged as a kingpin, which is a charge given to leaders or organised crime syndicates. Realistically, Ross should have already served his sentence. This is a man who is highly unlikely to go on and commit another crime. Let alone a violent crime.
So I encourage you to look at this case and see it for its failings. This man was given a sentence that was completely unjust and unreasonable. And I ask that you sign this petition to encourage the American government to overturn his charge.
I also encourage you to read or listen to the Silk Road story, it’s one of the most fascinating stories that I have ever heard. But a very sad one given the outcome.