Does the dark web aid and abet terrorist groups?

Mar 31, 2016, 2:58 PM EDT
(Source: Image Catalog/flickr)
(Source: Image Catalog/flickr)

As the threat of ISIS spreads around the world, taking hold of countries including France, Belgium, and the U.S., governments are grasping to understand how the terrorist organization proliferates. One fact has become clear: ISIS has money, and governments are now looking at systems such as the "dark web”, bitcoin, and other underground networks to see if they are partially to blame for helping terrorist groups find and secure funding. 

The 2016 CIGI-Ipsos Global Survey on Internet Security and Trust, undertaken by the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and conducted by global research company Ipsos interviewed 24,143 web users in 24 countries between November 20, 2015 and December 4, 2015. 71% of those respondents said that the “dark net” should be shut down. Three in 10 respondents said the dark net should remain in existence. This disparity highlights a few points, one of which is that most users probably don’t know exactly what the dark net is and associate it with the underbelly of the internet and criminal activity. 

Indeed, the dark net — networks primarily used for illegal file-sharing and what have become associated with systems such as the Silk Road and Pirate Bay — is the home for plenty of illegal activity. But in the wake of devastating terrorist attacks, the world is scrambling to understand how groups such as ISIS stay funded, and it sees the dark net as a threat in this regard, mainly because most people don’t understand what it is or how it works.

That isn't the only unknown. Some governments are attempting to figure out if and how they should regulate systems like bitcoin to get a better hold on the underbelly of the internet. In January, Germany and France both called for stricter bitcoin regulation and regulation of payments systems on the web to insure against financing terrorism. 

It’s difficult to find evidence of bitcoin used for funding terrorist group activity, but because the jury is still out on whether or not the dark net allows such financing to fly under the radar, it’s a popular culprit. Still, around one-third of respondents to the aforementioned survey believe the dark net should stay — something no amount of government policy or public opinion will actually determine. And Fen Hampson, director of CIGI’s Global Security & Politics Program and co-director of the Global Commission on Internet Governance says that the anonymity aspect of the dark web is what complicates the issue for many people. He said:

“The opinions expressed by global citizens on the Dark Net, a faceless realm functioning purely on anonymity, demonstrate the complexity of this issue for policymakers and governments around the world. Simply put, anonymity and the privacy of users must be central determinants in guiding the future of creating systems and boundaries to govern the Internet.”

As the global threat of ISIS continues to impact policy-making, the shadowy sections of the internet will undoubtedly remain in the mix.