Is the Dark Web Illegal?

July 21, 2020 • Zachary Amos


You’ve probably heard people mention the dark web before. You’ll hear about it in conversation, in TV shows and maybe even on the news, but you may not know what exactly it is. The name sounds seedy, but is the dark web illegal?

The dark web itself is not illegal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t break the law using it. As you’ve no doubt heard, there’s a lot of shady, even criminal content on there. You can use the dark web legally, but you have to be careful.

To help you understand better, here’s a more in-depth look at what the dark web is.

What Is the Dark Web?

First things first, you have to understand the difference between the dark web and the deep web. They’re not the same thing. The deep web refers to any non-indexed internet content, like password-locked accounts and anything behind a paywall. What about the dark web?

The dark web is part of the deep web but refers explicitly to an intentionally hidden network. While your emails are part of the deep web, they’re not the dark web. You can’t find dark web content with a Google search, but you can with specialized software.

The dark web consists of a system of encrypted networks that keep users anonymous. You can see why it might be the ideal place for criminals, then. Since dark web activities happen out of the view of authorities, a lot of it is illegal.

How the Dark Web Works

Since it’s hidden, you can’t access the dark web with a standard browser like Chrome or Firefox. The most popular dark web software is The Onion Router, or Tor. Tor is the product of the U.S. Navy, developed it in the 90s — but it went public in 2004.

Tor hides your IP address and routes your requests through multiple servers, covering your identity and location. On top of this complicated routing system, dark web software also encrypts data at every step. That’s how dark web users can stay anonymous despite all the data involved in using the internet.  

Even once you open Tor or another dark web browser, you can’t find dark web sites by searching for them. You’ll have to find the URL for the website you want and enter that. If you do visit the dark web, though, be careful, because you may end up somewhere illegal.

Legal Issues With the Dark Web

As mentioned earlier, the dark web itself is legal, but the same isn’t always true of its content. One of the most famous examples of dark web activity was a site called Silk Road. Silk Road was a multi-million-dollar black market site, selling things like illegal firearms and drugs until the FBI shut it down in 2013.

One study found that 57% of dark web sites contained some kind of illegal content. That was in 2015, so the amount of shady dark web businesses could have grown since then. The dark web is infamously home to things like drug trading and illegal pornography.

Criminals aren’t the only people who use the dark web, though. Some journalists use it to talk to sources who want to stay anonymous. Some people use it for things as mundane as playing online chess.

The Internet, Legality and Safety

The internet can be a dangerous place, especially when you consider the dark web. While not everything there is illegal, you could easily end up on an illicit site if you’re not careful. Like with many things on the internet, the dark web offers some noteworthy pros, but a lot of cons.

Privacy is something that everyone can appreciate, not just criminals. Given its shadiness, though, the dark web may not be the best place to go.