You can buy almost anything on the web, pay digitally, and have it delivered to your doorstep. Unfortunately, the same goes for drugs.
Earlier this month, the Hyderabad Narcotic Enforcement Wing (H-NEW) busted a drug-dealing mafia operated solely through the dark web and social media. Payments were also made through crypto wallets, Hyderabad Police Commissioner CV Anand said.
However, this is not the first time the technology has been used for illicit activities such as drug trafficking. In 2021, Bangalore Police registered 30 narcotics involving the dark web. Tech-savvy narcotics dealers are becoming a headache for Indian police, who often lack technical expertise.
Tech-savvy drug dealers
The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) has made its first arrest of an alleged dark web narcotics seller in 2020. Then 21-year-old Dipu Singh was arrested by the NCB in Alambagh, Lucknow, for allegedly sold mind-altering drugs on dark web marketplaces such as Majestic Garden and Empire Market in exchange for cryptocurrency.
Singh allegedly sold drugs to customers in European countries like Romania and Spain, and in the United States. Since then, we have had numerous arrests across the country where vendors were selling narcotics via the dark web.
In November 2020, NCB seized 20 blots of LSD from Malad, purchased by a Mumbai drug dealer using Bitcoin. In 2021, the NCB arrested Makarand P Adivirkar, often referred to as the “Crypto King”, who was using Bitcoins to purchase narcotics.
In the same year, a youth from Kerala landed in NCB custody after buying ecstasy pills worth nearly Rs 20 lakh from the dark web using Bitcoin. The accused was to receive the contraband from Germany through the foreign post office in Chamarajpet.
Over the years, the sale of narcotics on the dark web has increased dramatically. The World Drug Report said that around 90% of sales transactions on the dark web are related to narcotics. Tor, originally developed by the US government to protect intelligence information, and the emergence of cryptocurrency have led to the growth of the narcotics market on the dark web.
The NCB revealed that drug seizures in courier shipments have soared 250% in the country since the pandemic hit.
The dark web offers anonymity – entry points and pathways are encrypted, allowing all parties to conduct business anonymously, without disclosing information such as user location and IP addresses. This keeps user searches and actions untraceable.
Even law enforcement authorities cannot find out who bought what on the dark web. Additionally, most drugs acquired on the dark web arrive via international post. For example, LSD, one of the popular synthetic drugs sold in the country, comes in the form of a sheet of paper. It therefore becomes extremely difficult for the authorities to find it among other larger shipments.
Both the government and the NCB are aware of the growing threat from the dark web. The Narendra Modi-led administration considers narcotics a national threat and has launched initiatives such as Nasha Mukt Bharat Abhiyaan (NMBA), launched in December 2021.
Uttar Pradesh Minister of State for Finance, Pankaj Choudhary, in a written response to a question posed to the Lok Sabha, reiterated that the government is taking steps to prevent the use of cryptocurrencies for the smuggling of narcotics and weapons.
Apart from setting up online monitoring and control systems, the government is also training the police in cyber and forensic technologies. In addition, police departments coordinate with foreign drug enforcement agencies.
The NCB is seeking external help in the form of experts to assist them in financial data analysis, forensic auditing, and the investigation of complex drug crimes that involve cryptocurrencies and transactions concealed by multilevel transactions.
In addition, the NCB has also launched a “Darkathon” for cyber experts with the aim of finding countermeasures to unravel the anonymity of markets on the dark web.
Recently, the UP government set up an Anti-Narcotics Task Force (ANTF) to deal with the threat of narcotics traded through the dark web. Apparently, FNT has prepared a roadmap to completely eradicate the narcotics trade from the dark web and the process has already begun.
In Bangalore, law enforcement authorities have made numerous arrests by tracking UPI transactions. In 2020, India’s Silicon Valley recorded the highest number of narcotics cases in the country. A senior officer said“Crime tracing requires a mix of social engineering and technology. We use a variety of methods to understand the social milieu of the dark web.
The Bengaluru Police train their staff with the technical know-how and some of them learn programming languages such as Python which are useful in cracking some of the encryption in the dark web. They also familiarize themselves with certain jargons used on the dark web.
Similarly, in Telangana, the state police introduced DOPAM (Drug Offender Profiling, Analysis and Monitoring System) – software that assists police in creating, updating and researching profiles of known drug-using offenders.
The software helps investigators identify offenders based on the drugs they sell and the areas in which they operate. DOPAMS helps police identify hotspots and monitor drug cultivation and supply. It also maintains a database that is regularly updated with data from across the state. Therefore, it facilitates centralized monitoring of all reported drug-related cases in the state.