The answer to the title question is easy, NO it is not illegal to browse the dark web, but it really does depend on what you are doing that will determine whether your activity is legal or not. Buying an air rifle in the UK is not illegal, but if you start shooting people then clearly your activity would be. Usage of the dark web is no different.
Interestingly, the dark web offers plenty of sites that, while often contentious, violate no laws. You can find, for instance, forums, blogs, and social media sites that cover a host of topics such as politics and sports which are not illegal.
In fact, there are many legitimate reasons why individuals want to use the dark web. The stand out reason is user anonymity. The dark web is a place where people can communicate without fear of retribution because they are anonymous. Sometimes this anonymity is really beneficial. For example it may be the case that certain individuals would be in danger if their identity was disclosed. They could be a whistleblower for example, or they might have legitimate political information that is so sensitive that they would be putting themselves at genuine risk if their identity was disclosed. Of course, for the same reason the anonymity of the user is used to the benefit of individuals who want to operate outside of the law.
The key message I am trying to convey is that browsing and interacting with the dark web is 100% legal, but be warned, unless you are technically savvy, to a pretty high level, you could be exposing yourself to some extremely corrupt individuals. So browsing and using the dark web isn’t illegal, in fact there are many sites that operate close to the edge, but violate no laws. On the other hand you can visit an equally vast array of sites that break every law ever written.
So, What is the Dark Web used for, When it is Used Illegally?
The dark web has many illegal use cases. I guess the obvious one is the trading of stolen personally identifiable data or PII. According to an article in TechRepublic, (https://www.techrepublic.com/article/how-much-is-your-info-worth-on-the-dark-web-for-americans-its-just-8/) Personal data can go for as much as £25 a record depending where you live. So to a hacker, a data breach can be very lucrative, and that doesn’t equate to the money gained through the illegal exploitation of the data itself.
You can buy or sell drugs, and even drug taking equipment such as needles. If you’re into explosives and guns then there are numerous places you can top up your collection. You can even rent highly complex and distributed bot networks to conduct a DDoS attack. Then there’s the boring stuff like credit cards for sale, the list is really endless. Put simply, if you want to sell something illegal, the dark web is the place to do it.
Ok, so How do you Access the Dark Web?
To access the Dark Web you need a special browser called TOR which stands for “The Onion Router” TOR allows you to browse illegal sites with the .onion extension. The most noticeable difference is that it is slower than a normal browser but for anyone worried about browsing speed, try accessing the internet back in the late 90’s / early 2000’s on 56k modem, and I will redefine your opinion of slow browsing.
So, is it Illegal to Use the TOR Browser?
Once again it is not illegal to use the TOR browser, but be very careful. Surfing is not illegal but visiting an illegal site certainly is. You wouldn’t walk into a known cannabis factory or drug dealer’s house expecting your action to be deemed perfectly legal, would you? The key here is to use common sense. If something is illegal, it’s illegal…..period.
Not surprisingly there is quite a ferocious debate between IT professionals as to the legitimacy of the use of TOR and the dark web. The argument for its use is that criminals don’t just exclusively use the dark web, they also use the public internet. In the same way bank robbers use cars on public roads. The authorities don’t shut down public roads, so in the same respect why shut down the dark web. In fact, the supporters of the dark web feel it is their democratic right to search what they want anonymously.
Those against its use simply feel that it is accelerating crime and it is making law enforcement so much hader. If you haven’t watched it already, the documentary called “Deep Web” (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3312868/?ref_=vp_vi_tt) is worth a watch. That documentary provides you with the sheer scale of the potential market.
So, to wrap up, it’s not illegal to browse or use the dark web, but use it with caution. As I said before, if something is illegal, it’s illegal.
Have fun out there.