Ross Ulbricht may be denying that he was the mastermind of the Silk Road simply because the charges brought against him by the FBI are so intense.
Ulbricht, who has been sitting in a Brooklyn prison since 2013, is accused of setting up the super secret eBay for evil. He’s accused of, among other things, conspiracy to commit murder.
Because the Silk Road was so careful to guard its secrecy, he’s betting that the proof that he was, in fact, the helmsman of the site is tenuous enough that, by casting doubt on that, he can maintain his innocence.
The identity in question he’s denying is that of the “Dread Pirate Roberts.” The Dread Pirate Roberts was, allegedly, the top dog at The Silk Road. It’s also the name of one of two leads in 1987’s box office flop-turned-cult classic, The Princess Bride.
The question of whether or not the operators of The Silk Road were internet libertarians persecuted by backwards thinking magistrates or actual criminals hinges, of course, on how knowingly they were involved with nefarious transactions. As Vice’s Motherboard puts it in a story on Ulbricht’s first day in court:
Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute, said the larger precedents being discussed surrounding the case are overblown.
“I don’t see this trial as being the big thing on internet freedom the defense has been making it out to be in public,” he said. “Silk Road was not just a passive listing service, but an escrow service, a reputation service, and a dispute resolution service, and thus it was actively involved in every drug transaction.”
However, Weaver does say the gravity of the charges brought against Ulbricht imply the FBI is making an example of him.
Another local technologist who Johnny Law has its sights on Charlie Shrem, whose Bitcoin startup was accused of facilitating drug sales. When the Silk Road went under, Bitcoin took a sharp hit that it has never quite recovered from.