Dark web crackdown: Germans want to criminalize anyone providing a platform

Germany's states have decided the country needs a new law to criminalize dark-web platform operators.
Written by David Meyer on

Germany's states have voted to introduce federal legislation that would criminalize the act of providing technical infrastructure for so-called dark-web marketplaces where illegal activities take place.

The Bundesrat – the legislative body that represents Germany's 16 Länder, or federal states – voted for the measure on Friday and will now present the draft law to the Bundestag, Germany's federal parliament, where it will be debated and potentially taken up.

It is of course already against the law to sell drugs or offer hitman services over such sites, which operate away from the open internet. As the operators of the Elysium child sexual-abuse platform recently learned, dark-web platform operators can already expect jail time if caught.

However, the states believe more should be done to crack down on those who provide the technical infrastructure for such marketplaces. Some legal experts believe these people are already covered by existing law as aiders and abettors, but the Bundesrat thinks they remain in too much of a legal gray area.

The law was originally proposed by the states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Hesse, which called for criminal penalties for those who provide platforms that enable criminal offences and where access is "limited by special technical precautions". 

SEE: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

That is supposed to mean sites that are only accessible through services such as Tor and I2P – Tor is indeed even named in the proposal's accompanying documentation.

There would be jail terms of up to three years in cases of platforms where drugs, explosives and child sexual-abuse material are traded.

Bavaria tried to amend the draft to have its sanctions apply to the open internet as well as the dark web, and also to have the proposal authorize the use of telecommunications surveillance and state trojans, but its amendments fell, according to a Netzpolitik report.

Nonetheless, some fear the proposal is still too expansive. Criminal lawyer David Schietinger told Der Spiegel that the language "would severely limit civil liberties" as it "could be used to severely restrict or ban the dark web".

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