Silk Road is an online marketplace that its operators run as a Tor hidden service (anonymous and encrypted). Visitors must use Tor software to access the marketplace. The majority of products that sellers list on Silk Road qualify as contraband in most jurisdictions. ‘NPR’ has referred to the site as the ‘Amazon.com of illegal drugs.’ Buyers and sellers conduct all transactions with bitcoins (an encrypted digital currency).
Although the bitcoin’s exchange rate may fluctuate greatly in short periods of time, most of the prices on Silk Road are bound to United States dollar to prevent too drastic inflation or deflation. Buyers can register on Silk Road for free, but sellers must purchase new accounts through auctions to mitigate the possibility of malicious individuals distributing tainted goods.
Senators Charles Schumer and Joe Manchin sent a letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder and DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart insisting that the agency shut down the marketplace. Subsequently, Silk Road’s administrators posted on the Silk Road forums the following statement: ‘The die have [sic] been cast and now we will see how they land [sic]. We will be diverting even more effort into countering their attacks and making the site as resilient as possible, which means we may not be as responsive to messages for a while. I’m sure this news will scare some off, but should we win the fight, a new era will be born. Even if we lose, the genie is out of the bottle and they are fighting a losing War already.’
After this attention, traffic to the website increased dramatically and the bitcoin saw a corresponding rise in value. The site was also used during the markup hearing for the 2011 Stop Online Piracy Act as an example of distributed networking and computer systems which by design are not blockable by domain name filtering such as proposed in SOPA.