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This past May a year-old man raised in the wealthy suburbs of west Austin was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole by a federal judge in New York City. Three months earlier, prosecutors had convinced the court that Ross William Ulbricht was not just a former Eagle Scout and graduate of the University of Texas at Dallas but also Dread Pirate Roberts, the mastermind behind the Silk Road, an online black market that trafficked in all manner of illicit goods, from forged documents to hitmen to drugs.
The deeper that Winter and his narrator, Keanu Reeves, dive into the dark net, the more you start to see the method in the madness. To hear Deep Web advocates and Ulbricht defenders tell it, the Silk Road was a reasonable alternative to an ongoing insanity, a marketplace for drugs without all the failed law enforcement strategies and coercion.
Without all the violence, madness and government hypocrisy. The government, obviously, disagreed with this way of thinking and promptly infiltrated and shut down the Silk Road, raising a whole slew of disturbing legal questions — questions Winter dives into with the relish of both the filmmaker and the conspiracy buff: What are the constitutional limits of privacy protection in the Digital Age?
Are the contents of your computer or your phone, nebulous and abstract and conceptual as they are, ever really yours? Or is information simply there to be plucked by the authorities whenever they say they need it to preserve national security?
In a world of secret Internets and inscrutable tech jargon, of profit-driven criminal justice systems, government-corporate collusion, peer-to-peer bankless commerce, wild or not-so-wild conspiracy theories, and shadowy online communities providing shelter for terrorists, pedophiles, journalists and digital-liberty activists alike, where are the rest of us supposed to look for something like an answer?
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