A warning from Silk Road documentary Deep Web

Investigating the Ross Ulbricht case, filmmaker Alex Winter urges ‘there’s really no downside to more encryption’

Enjoying its world premiere at SXSW earlier in the week, Alex Winter’s Silk Road documentary Deep Web was only completed a couple of days before the festival. With millions in cryptocurrency Bitcoin (BTC) lost over the weekend, Winter’s doc surrounding the Ross Ulbricht case and the original Silk Road is more relevant than ever, largely because it addresses the real danger facing dark net users from external forces like the FBI and, even more troubling, other users and moderators who might be looking to take advantage.

Investigating the Ross Ulbricht case in depth, Deep Web puts the admitted Silk Road founder in a positive light, pointing out the fact that the prosecution didn’t allow evidence that pointed towards multiple people operating under the infamous Dread Pirate Roberts handle within Silk Road. Speaking with Alex Winter at SXSW, his frustration from being stonewalled during production was evident. “The prosecution can’t really talk to be fair to them. I wasn’t expecting them to, they can’t really legally talk to me. There are plenty of people that could have that didn’t and it’s disappointing more than surprising. Sort of the same thing I went through on Napster, the bands didn’t want to talk, the labels didn’t want to talk. They don’t want to misrepresent themselves and it’s easier to just be silent and let these things roll on. It was certainly a lot more chilling.”

“They can’t really legally talk to me. The same thing I went through on Napster, the bands didn’t want to talk, the labels didn’t want to talk. It’s easier to just be silent and let these things roll on”

The main takeaway from the film highlights the fact that the crypto-terrorist movement towards more privacy and user freedom can protect someone from the law but not necessarily someone inside the framework that can wind up being vulnerable to theft and, in Ross’s case, an alleged frame job. Winter addressed the fact that people using encryption are focusing so much on the enemy outside that they’re ignoring the potential enemy that could be lurking in the chat room. “Our film really addresses these movements online towards privacy and anonymity that really believe that further encryption is really important,” Winter explains, “and it will help protect you both from invasion of too much surveillance and malfeasance from overreach on the government’s side but will also protect you from Black Hat hackers and the bad guys within the chat space who can infiltrate your information as well. There’s really no downside to more encryption.”

The only downside comes into play when everyday internet users like you and me decide to begin experimenting with encryption tech and the world of Bitcoin, only to open ourselves up to an insanely complicated subculture and underworld that is difficult to fully comprehend even among experts. Because of that, SXSW became the perfect place to premiere Deep Web for Winter because the issues in the film can be analyzed by a very tech-savvy audience. “Anywhere where you can at least start with the people who may know more about these issues than everybody else is a huge help because one of the biggest problems that the Ulbricht’s have faced in dealing with their son is that there’s just so much ignorance. It’s understandable because these issues are insanely complicated.”

Speaking at the Austin Convention Center just a few doors down from where Deep Web premiered, the Winkelvoss twins spoke at their panel, “Bitcoin: What It Needs To Succeed”, predicting that we will have a “cashless society” by the year 2025. With a major darknet marketplace scam instantly disappearing millions and the frightening developments of the Ulbricht case shown in Deep Web, Winter is justifiably skeptical. “I defy the Winklevoss twins to explain how Bitcoin works. I’ve yet to hear them actually do that. They’re very, very complicated issues even for people that are tech adept. So, I think that the more people who aren’t tech adept who can champion issues that are important – and it’s not about being one-sided or people not wanting to stick their neck out for certain issues – but at least they can enter into the narrative discussions around where we are and the challenges around where we are.”

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