A Geographic Analysis of Drug Trafficking Patterns on the Tor Network
Geographical Review Early View
Diana S. Dolliver, Steven P. Ericson, and Katherine L. Love
American Geographical Society: What is the main purpose of your study?
Diana S. Dolliver: The main purpose of our study was to examine geographic global drug trafficking patterns of four main drug-types of abuse sold via one online “drug store” housed on the Tor Network, Agora. The four drug-types we examined were cocaine, heroin, new psychoactive substances (like ketamine and synthetic cannabinoids), and prescription drugs (like oxycodone and Adderall). This study used geovisualization techniques and exploratory spatial data analyses to map countries around the world sourcing these drugs and to determine whether any patterns existed between the four drug-types or whether any country-based hotspots or statistical outliers were present within each drug’s trafficking data.
American Geographical Society: What are the practical, day to day implications of your study?
Diana S. Dolliver: Purchasing drugs is easier than ever before; with an Internet connection, a user can freely access virtual drug stores on the Tor Network and make a purchase, only having to wait a few days for the substance to arrive in the mail. However, our study shows how different these trafficking patterns are from corresponding offline patterns – whereas traditional heroin trafficking patterns (for instance) follow well-established land routes, online heroin trafficking patterns are more geographically random. This requires academics and policymakers to gain a better understanding of “cyber geography” and its role in future global drug policies.
American Geographical Society: How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
Diana S. Dolliver: Our study is interdisciplinary, and extends the knowledge from previous studies in geography and criminology. First, while geographers have studied the global drug trade and its many aspects, research about the online sale of illegal drugs has been absent from the geographic literature. Second, criminologists have turned their attention to Tor-based drug trafficking by examining different drug marketplaces (i.e., websites) on Tor, changes over time in various types of drugs being sold, and interviewed vendors and users. However, our study extends this literature by employing spatial analysis to test for geographic hotspots and statistical outliers.
American Geographical Society: What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?
Diana S. Dolliver: A statistical examination of the European region revealed that geographic proximity did not affect the likelihood of whether specific countries were listed as a source for heroin, cocaine, new psychoactive substances, or prescription drugs. This indicates that other factors influenced whether countries were listed as sources for the drugs or not.
Globally, six countries dominated world listings across the four drug-types: Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Within Europe, three countries were the most likely sources for all for drug-types: Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.
American Geographical Society: What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?
Diana S. Dolliver: Answering Hall’s (2010) call for a holistic approach to examining geographies of illicit activities within the framework of globalization, our findings of the statistical randomness within European drug data emphasize that processes like greater interconnectedness fostered by globalization may have contributed to these results.
American Geographical Society: How does your research help us think about Geography?
Diana S. Dolliver: Our study challenges researchers to rethink global drug trafficking patterns and geographic distribution of these substances by introducing “cyber” to the study of geography. As globalization processes continue to permeate the international community, bringing with it ever-increasing rates of Internet connectivity, the (legal and illegal) trade of commodities can no longer be conceptualized without consideration of the cyber domain.
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