How can law enforcement provide a more effective response to crime on the dark web?

DARKNETAs we continue to live more of our day-to-day lives online, criminals continue to focus more of their activities on the virtual world. The arrival of the dark web has made it difficult for law-enforcement officers to detect, monitor and investigate criminal activities.

The dark web provides anonymity and encryption, both of which significantly complicate the processes of identifying suspects and gathering evidence. To gain a better understanding of these challenges, the RAND Corporation and the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) in the name of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), held a seminar which brought together a diverse group of professionals and investigators. Their task was to identify, as a matter of urgency, problems and potential solutions relating to evidence from the dark web. Attention focused on developing a research and development programme to improve the understanding and investigation of illicit activities on the dark web. The participants in the seminar identified 46 potential solutions and needs, including better training for law-enforcement agencies, information sharing between all jurisdictions and researches into the loopholes and shortcomings of current dark web legislation

Main conclusions

  • Better training for professionals and information sharing could have a significant impact.
  • There is a lack of knowledge about what the dark web is, and how criminals use it to their advantage.
  • Law-enforcement agencies often overlook physical indications of dark web usage when gathering evidence for criminal investigations. These indicators could include notes on cryptocurrency portfolios, encryption keys or dark-web addresses.
  • The anonymity and encryption provided by the dark web make it extremely difficult for investigators to prove a crime has been committed.


  • Invest in training at all levels, from entry-level professionals to the highest-ranking officers. Lower ranks should know which elements of everyday life could be relevant to an investigation and higher ranks must ensure training courses equip officers and investigators with the necessary skills and knowledge.
  • Invest in improvements to information sharing between agencies, both within the United States and internationally.
  • Consider the advantages of increased investment in cross-organisational structures to facilitate cooperation and information sharing.
  • Encourage organisations to develop new testing standards for forensic tools used to collect evidence from computers that use dark web software.
  • Research the modernisation of legislation surrounding the inspection of elements transmitted by email and similar services in the USA.
  • Investigate the increasingly interconnected nature of offences and criminals to ensure that law-enforcement agencies can focus on both the ‘tip of the iceberg’ (traditional crimes), as well as the less visible but extremely significant portion below the surface (electronic crime), which can affect the health and wellbeing of society.


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