Academic journal article The Geographical Review

A Geographic Analysis of Drug Trafficking Patterns on the Tor Network

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

A Geographic Analysis of Drug Trafficking Patterns on the Tor Network

Article excerpt

Global drug-trafficking operations remain at the forefront of concerns for the international community, as "more than ever before, strong levels of cooperation exist between different [trafficking] groups transcending national, ethnic, and business differences" (OCTA 2011, 8). These criminal networks quickly adapt to new social environments and fluctuating markets, illustrating their flexible and dynamic qualities. Drug-trafficking organizations face a shifting landscape dependent on a number of factors, including market demand, cultivation rates, access to established land trafficking routes, and law-enforcement activity (Caulkins and Reuter 1998; Kilmer and Pacula 2009; UNODC 2009, 2012, 2014; Boivin 2014). Yet, a new virtual dimension of the global drug trade has evolved in recent years that may also contribute to these and other global drug market fluctuations.

The cyber domain generates new opportunities for individuals to engage in a broad range of illegal practices, including the illicit sale and acquisition of controlled substances (Winstock 2014). Cyberspace has become an increasingly important component of broader globalization processes, accelerating the rate at which national borders continue to conceptually disintegrate as contact among previously isolated groups increases. The global community is becoming increasingly interconnected through the process of time-space compression (Harvey 1990; Appadurai 1996)--that is, the growing speed of communication and movement of capital worldwide. Online drug-selling activity has been well documented for over a decade (DEA 2005; Markoff 2005; Castronova 2006; Mackey and Liang 2011; Walsh 2011), and studied in various contexts on the Tor Network--a corner of the Internet that uses anonymizing software to conceal its users' identities (Barratt, Ferris, and Winstock 2014; Martin 2014; van Hout and Bingham 2014). Yet, the geographic prevalence and trafficking patterns of online drug markets have yet to be fully understood, particularly given that most aspects of the drug distribution chain remain offline. That is, all drugs (whether of organic or synthetic origin) are tangible and must be physically transported from the source to the eventual consumer-based destination; drugs cannot be virtually shipped to the buyer, as can child pornography or stolen credit card data.

For years, researchers have noted how globalization has contributed to the growth of transnational forms of crime, particularly drug trafficking (Passas 1999, 2003; Aas 2007; Boivin 2014; Dolliver and Love 2015). Globalization has facilitated increases in international drug trafficking by enabling greater population mobility, market integration, and flow of capital across national borders (Passas 2003). These factors, coupled with the use of the cyber domain, serve to expand global demand for and access to drugs, expediting drug-related communications, coordination, and virtual transactions. This added dimension to the global drug trade might also impact the geographic dispersion of drugs; when drugs are purchased online, postal carriers inadvertently become the trafficking mechanism and unknowingly deliver the substances to anyone with a postal address. This circumvents the need for the user to seek out drug dealers in their city, and users are not limited to the drugs that are only available in their geographic locale.

Given this context, this study analyzed geographic patterns of four primary drugs of abuse advertised on Agora, one of the largest international marketplaces on the Tor Network (at the time of data collection). The four types of drugs studied represent two of the most historically lucrative drugs trafficked traditionally worldwide, heroin and cocaine (UNODC 2010b), and two drug types experiencing a more recent, emerging global presence: new psychoactive substances (NPS) and prescription drugs (UNODC 2010a, 2010b, 2014, 2015). This study used exploratory spatial data analysis to examine source countries for each of the four drug types advertised on Agora, and identify any geographic clustering or hotspots among countries. …

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