Ethical and legal implications of darknet

12 Jun 2017 14:30h - 16:15h

Event report

[Read more session reports from WSIS Forum 2017]

The session entitled ‘Action line C-10: Ethical and Legal Implications of Darknet’ addressed legal and ethical challenges of the Darknet during the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2017. Dr Hara Padhy (Programme Specialist, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO)) moderated the session.

Dr Rayna Stamboliyska (Désidédata and RS Strategy) mentioned that media paints the web as a ‘terrible place where people sell drugs and children are harassed online or the location of Atlantis and Hitler’s legends are hidden’ yet a lot of good happens on the web. She informed participants that there is not one but many darkwebs as it is a network of networks. The darkweb is anonymous and it relies on encryption to protect users. On the notion that Mariana’s web is the darkest space, she disagreed and said it is a hoax. However, she added that legal, illicit and illegal activities coexist on the darkweb just as in everyday life, which also applies to the ‘clearnet’.  For example, some people share information about animals, book clubs, etc., while journalists, social networks, and whistleblowers might also share stories. She spoke about the real challenge to be involved in governance and gave the example of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) versus Playpen case where the FBI shut down the Playpen website but later had to drop charges because the FBI could not disclose how Playpen had been hacked. She concluded by noting that stating that ‘there is no governance mechanism’ is in fact a governance mechanism.

Described by the moderator as a popular name behind the right to be forgotten, Mr Dan Shefet (Lawyer, Cabinet Shefet) stated that there is no darknet. He categorised the web as the surface web (search engine indexed), the deep web (academia, medical records, scientific reports, databases, and government resources) and the darkweb (illicit content, encrypted, private communications, and intentional hiding). When he asked who had been on the dark web, 3 participants in the room responded in the affirmative. Mr Shefet informed participants that around 2 million people were accessing the TOR browser. Other examples of darknet browsers are GNU Net and Freenet. He mentioned that in some countries, accessing the darknet is not illegal, while countries like China are trying to block the darknet.

In his opinion, Mr Shefet said, legal challenges in relation to the darknet are in the areas of accessibility, law enforcement, providing electronic evidence, regulating cyptocurrencies, anonymity, and traceability. The Budapest Convention was cited as the only law that deals with cybercrimes on a global level. Mr Shefet expressed his concern that darkweb-related websites can ‘disappear’ overnight if crime is traced, so speed in apprehending criminals by law enforcement agencies is key. Participants were informed that law enforcement officers are not allowed to provoke/incite crime even for the purposes of investigations. On whether hacking by governments is allowed, Mr Shefet said it varied by country. He encouraged the media to be accountable for what they report, in response to the rise of fake news.

Mr Pavan Duggal, founder of, started by sharing a story of the 2 men who were charged for allegedly using the darknet to smuggle illegal firearms around the world. He mentioned that the ransomware attack (wanacry) was rumoured to originate from the darknet. He noted, however, that not only criminals were using the darknet, but also netizens who want to protect themselves online.

Duggal believes that the darknet is a new reality and many governments are still in denial. Cyberlaw needs to regulate the darknet. ‘Just because law-enforcement agencies do not crack the darknet does not mean that it does not exist’ he added. He informed participants that he had tried to find research related to the darknet/darkweb but such information is not readily available. He cautioned law enforcement agencies not to be spectators on the web and other citizens not to make the Internet a ‘dirty place’ for the perpetration of crime just because privacy is guaranteed. Duggal commended INTERPOL for the cybersecurity training offered to law enforcement agencies. Ethiopia was cited as one country that had blocked the TOR browser from networks. He concluded by calling for more legal, elastic, and robust frameworks to deal with challenges of the dark web.


by Sarah Kiden