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Schumer wants to beef up policing of 'dark Web' and its drug sales

A Newsday illustration showing the Agora website. Online

A Newsday illustration showing the Agora website. Online marketplaces for illegal drugs are proliferating at an alarming pace, authorities and digital watchdog groups say, with the quantity of illicit products and money being exchanged on the "dark web" more than doubling since the FBI closed the original Silk Road website in October 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday

Sen. Charles Schumer on Monday called for a review of the federal response to the proliferation of online marketplaces for illegal drugs, citing a Newsday investigation that revealed sale listings had more than doubled to $4 billion in the past year.

Schumer (D-N.Y.), calling the Newsday findings "troubling," asked the Department of Justice to examine its investigation methods to more effectively stop the online sales of heroin, cocaine and prescription drugs. Schumer said he also would push for increased funding for federal agencies to pay for better technology and more personnel aimed at shutting down the websites, which officials say are frequented by dealers and users on Long Island and in New York City.

"It's clear that the federal government needs more resources in order to investigate and target these sales," Schumer said at a news conference in Hicksville. "It is very hard to crack these websites because the encryption is so detailed. We have the experts that can do it . . . But we need more of them, doing it more frequently, going after more websites."

Jeffrey Reynolds, chief executive of the Family & Children's Association, which treats drug abusers, said his clients are "increasingly" buying drugs online. "They're saying to us: 'I don't need to go to the street corner to score drugs. The Web becomes the simplest way to get the drugs I need.' "

In 2013, heroin killed 144 people on Long Island, up from 110 in 2012.

A Newsday examination earlier this month found the number of listings for illegal drugs on 10 of the largest online drug markets rose to more than 40,000, with a value of $4 billion, compared with fewer than 20,000 listings valued at $2 billion in 2013.

The increased accessibility comes after the largest digital drug market -- Silk Road -- was shut down in 2013 and the man accused of operating the site, Ross Ulbricht, was arrested. He's pleaded not guilty to charges that include narcotics trafficking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

The drug websites, on the so-called "dark Web," are only accessible using encryption software Tor, which hides computers' IP addresses, making them untraceable.

Schumer said he doesn't want to shut down the dark Web -- just better police it -- because there are "some good uses," for example, it's "used by whistle-blowers and journalists" to communicate without being traced.

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