A law professor and a professor of criminal science argue, in a paper released online, that by reducing physical contact between drug dealers—particularly between dealers and their suppliers—the Silk Road's bustling Web-based narcotics trade may have prevented bloodshed that would have occurred in the street-level illegal drug market.
The Silk Road, after all, became a bustling online drug bazaar by giving users a new way to deal in contraband anonymously. On the site and dozens of copycats that followed its takedown by law enforcement in October, users' physical locations were obscured by tools like bitcoin and the anonymity software Tor. Those crypto protections are designed to prevent anyone–including cops and competitors–from knowing where users are. According to University of Lausanne criminologist David Decary-Hetu and University of Manchester law professor Judith Aldridge, that layer of anonymity made technical know-how and online customer service, not a propensity for violence, the barrier to entry for dealers on the Silk Road.