|“||I wanted to empower people to make choices in their lives and have privacy and anonymity.||„|
|~ Ulbricht on why he created Silk Road.|
Ross William Ulbricht (born March 27, 1984) is an American drug dealer, darknet market operator, and convicted felon best known for creating and operating the darknet market website Silk Road from 2011 until his arrest in 2013. The website was designed to use Tor for anonymity and bitcoin as a currency. Ulbricht's online pseudonym was Dread Pirate Roberts after the fictional character in the novel The Princess Bride and its film adaptation.
In February 2015, Ulbricht was convicted of money laundering, computer hacking, conspiracy to traffic fraudulent identity documents, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics by means of the Internet. In May 2015, he was sentenced to a double life sentence plus forty years without the possibility of parole. Ulbricht's appeals to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 2017 and the U.S Supreme Court in 2018 were unsuccessful. The prosecution dismissed with prejudice a five-year old unprosecuted indictment in July 2018. He is currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Tucson.
Ross Ulbricht grew up in Austin, Texas. He was a Boy Scout, attaining the rank of Eagle Scout. He attended Westlake High School in Austin, graduating from the school's honors program in 2002, taking several AP classes.
Ulbricht attended the University of Texas at Dallas on a full academic scholarship, and graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science in physics. He then attended Pennsylvania State University, where he was in a Master of Science program in materials science and engineering with a Master's thesis on crystallography. By the time Ulbricht graduated, he had become interested in libertarian economic theory; he adhered to the political philosophy of Ludwig von Mises, supported Ron Paul in his 2008 election, promoted agorism, and participated in college debates to discuss his economic views.Ulbricht graduated from Penn State in 2009 and returned to Austin to work as an engineer, but decided not to pursue it as a full-time job. He tried day trading and started a video game company; both ventures failed. He eventually partnered with his friend Donny Palmertree to help build an online used book seller, Good Wagon Books.
Ulbricht envisioned Silk Road as a free market experiment with an emphasis on user anonymity. He believed people should have the right to buy and sell whatever they want as long as they did not hurt anyone. Silk Road was designed to use Tor and bitcoin. Tor is a network which implements protocols that encrypt data and routes Internet traffic through intermediary servers that anonymize IP addresses before reaching a final destination. By hosting his market as a Tor site, Ulbricht could conceal its IP address. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency; while all bitcoin transactions are recorded in a log, the blockchain, users who avoid linking their identities to their online "wallets" can conduct transactions with considerable anonymity.
Ulbricht used the Dread Pirate Roberts username for Silk Road. However, whether he was the only one to use that account is disputed. Dread Pirate Roberts attributed his inspiration for creating the Silk Road marketplace as "Alongside Night and the works of Samuel Edward Konkin III."
Ulbricht began to work on developing his online marketplace in 2010 as a side project to Good Wagon Books. He also sporadically kept a diary during the operating history of Silk Road; in his first entry he outlined his situation prior to launch, and predicted he would make 2011 "a year of prosperity" through his ventures.
Ulbricht may also have included a reference to Silk Road on his LinkedIn page, where he discussed his wish to "use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind" and claimed "I am creating an economic simulation to give people a first-hand experience of what it would be like to live in a world without the systemic use of force." Ulbricht moved to San Francisco prior to his arrest.
Ulbricht was first connected to "Dread Pirate Roberts" by Gary Alford, an IRS investigator working with the DEA on the Silk Road case, in mid-2013. The connection was made by linking the username "altoid", used during Silk Road's early days to announce the website, and a forum post in which Ulbricht, posting under the nickname "altoid", asked for programming help and gave his email address, which contained his full name. In October 2013, Ulbricht was arrested by the FBI while at the Glen Park branch of the San Francisco Public Library, and accused of being the "mastermind" behind the site.
To prevent Ulbricht from encrypting or deleting files on the laptop he was using to run the site as he was arrested, two agents pretended to be quarreling lovers. When they had sufficiently distracted him, according to Joshuah Bearman of Wired, a third agent grabbed the laptop while Ulbricht was distracted by the apparent lovers' fight and handed it to agent Thomas Kiernan. Kiernan then inserted a flash drive in one of the laptop's USB ports, with software that copied key files.
On August 21, 2014, Ulbricht was charged with money laundering, computer hacking, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics. On February 4, 2015, Ulbricht was convicted on all counts after a jury trial that took place in January 2015. On May 29, 2015, he was sentenced to double life imprisonment plus forty years, without the possibility of parole.
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