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Domain seizures can’t stop online drug pushers

Kevin Murphy, June 6, 2011, Domain Policy

Two US senators have reportedly asked the Drug Enforcement Agency to seize the domain name of Silk Road, a web site that lets drug users buy heroin and other narcotics online.

There’s just one problem: the site doesn’t have a domain name.

Silk Road is reportedly a bit like eBay, but for illegal drugs. You can buy ecstasy, marijuana, heroin and so forth, from actual dealers, using the peer-to-peer virtual currency Bitcoins.

This weekend, Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin wrote to the DEA to demand that the site’s domain name be seized, an increasingly popular tactic in law enforcement.

But Silk Road’s address is apparently ianxz6zefk72ulzz.onion, which is only accessible through the mostly anonymous TOR onion-routing P2P network.

As far as I can make out, there is no registry for .onion addresses – they’re cryptographic hashes of private keys known only to the registrant, which ensures almost-uniqueness without the need for a central repository.

In other words, seizing the domain is going to be impossible.