In a letter written to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) this week, U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and John Cornyn (R-TX) pressed for details on drug trafficking crackdown efforts targeting the dark web and its users.
Pointing to the DOJ’s Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement (J-CODE), the senators requested information about J-CODE’s operations, their oversight and documentation, their determinations as to sources of the opioids in question, and whether tech companies that provide encrypted communications for dark web users have proven cooperative with law enforcement.
The dark web, popularized as an anonymous means of operation on the internet, is not illegal in and of itself. However, it isn’t visible to search engines, and its web sites are encrypted, making it a haven for many illegal activities, such as the distribution of illegal drugs. This tends to be exacerbated through coupling with virtual and crypto-currencies, which makes such deals hard to track by law enforcement. J-CODE was founded in 2018 with a mission to disrupt and dismantle dark web marketplaces that facilitate opioid distribution.
“Opioid trafficking on the dark web is especially concerning,” the senators wrote. “Tens of thousands of Americans die every year from opioid overdoses. Much of the illicit trade in opioids, including fentanyl, an especially dangerous type of opioid, occurs over the dark web and is aided by criminal syndicates running dark web marketplaces.”
While J-CODE has thus far seen some success, the senators sought further information about the organization’s work and future endeavors. Some of their questions focused on tools, such as whether the DOJ has a system to track indictments and investigations linked to the dark web and opioid crimes, and others on action, such as how many indictments have been filed involving the dark web and cryptocurrency and how many were the result of J-CODE investigations. Questions of partnership with other governmental agencies, communications, origins for dark web opioids, and necessary resources were also on the agenda.
Communications technology was another major concern for the senators, though. They specifically asked whether any technology companies that provided encrypted communications were refusing to cooperate with law enforcement throughout drug trafficking investigations involving their services and whether technology companies that create or facilitate the use or transfer of cryptocurrency were similarly uncooperative.
In all cases, the senators wanted answers by Oct. 15, 2020.