Can a robot, or a piece of software, be jailed if it commits a crime? Swiss Police nab “random ‘darknet’ shopper” when it purchases MDMA from Germany.
Swiss police have arrested a robot after it bought a supply of illegal drugs on a hidden region of the internet known as the “dark net”‘.
WHAT IS THE DARK NET?
The automated computer program was designed as an online shopping system that would spend up to $100.00 each week by randomly purchasing an item offered for sale on the dark net. The robot would then have its purchase mailed to a group of artists who then put the items in an exhibition at a “Live Mall Art Piece) in the town of St Gallen, in Northeast Switzerland.
The idea was to connect the Darknet with the physical art exhibition space, however, it seems the “Random Darknet Shopper” crossed the line when it purchased ten (10) Ecstasy tablets, which arrived in a vacuum packed bag hidden in a DVD case.
Tests on the tablets revealed that they contained 90 mg of MDMA, resulting in the Swiss police seizing the drugs, the computer and the rest of the items it had purchased, but, after destroying the drugs Swiss police returned the computer and the rest of the non-contraband items which it had purchased to the group behind the bot, “!Mediengruppe Bitnik”.
Writing on their blog, London based artists Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo, who were behind the project, said: “Random Darknet Shopper has finally been released and is now back in our possession.” They described the police’s actions as an “unjustified intervention into the freedom of art” and were pleased to have received an “order for withdrawal of prosecution”.
Per the !Mediengruppe Bitnik blog: “In the order for withdrawal of prosecution the public prosecutor states that the possession of Ecstasy was indeed a reasonable means for the purpose of sparking public debate about questions related to the exhibition. The public prosecution also asserts that the over weighing interest in the questions raised by the art work Random Darknet Shopper justify the exhibition of the drugs as artifacts, even if the exhibition does hold a small risk of endangerment of third parties through the drugs exhibited. We as well as the Random Darknet Shopper have been cleared of all charges. This is a great day for the bot, for us and for freedom of art!”
It is alleged that the Random Darknet Shopper project was set up as an attempt to highlight some of the dilemmas that can be thrown up by dark net markets and anonymous internet use. It used Bitcoin to randomly purchase items that were offered for sail in the darknet. The items were delivered to the artists by mail and then put on display in an exhibition at the Kunst Halle in St Gallen. During the weeks that it had been running it purchased a fake Louis Vuitton handbag, a baseball cap with a hidden camera and 200 Chesterfield cigarettes. The robot software bought the ecstasy in October. It was sent from Germany to Switzerland and apparently crossed the border hidden in a DVD case without being intercepted by the authorities. The MDMA pills were allowed to remain on show in the exhibition until it ended in January, but the police raided the exhibition when it came to an end and seized the computer and its purchases on the grounds the drugs were an endangerment of third parties. The case has raised important questions about the use of automatic shopping bots and the use of the darknet. To me it’s simple…
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