Internet was born from the ARPANET project, led by the United States Department of Defense, which aimed to develop a system to maintain communications in the event of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. The idea was to create a decentralized network to compensate for the potential destruction of a part of the internet system. The first message was sent on October 29, 1969, with five letters: “LOGIN.”

Today, approximately 4.5 billion people on Earth use the internet, and in Western democracies, around 95% of the population is online.

Behind the well-known internet, more secretive and anonymous computer networks thrive, known as “darknets.”

The darknet was initially conceived to allow dissenters in dictatorships to exchange ideas freely, bypassing censorship. Therefore, the darknet is a space for freedom of expression and privacy.

Various types of darknets emphasize the positive aspects of these networks.

The debate is not as straightforward, as technology is neither inherently good nor bad; it is not neutral either (Melvin Kranzberg). Consequently, while the use of the darknet is not prohibited in principle, some uses of darknets can be illegal.

Detecting sites offering illegal content on the darknet often results from the combined efforts of police and customs services. For example, the Black Hand site, one of the main platforms on the French-speaking darknet, was discovered through the combined work of specialized services (cyber customs, linked to the national directorate of intelligence and customs investigations). The discovery led to an investigation under the supervision of the public prosecutor, who authorized customs services. This resulted in a procedure known as “cost of purchase” (ordering a product to gather evidence of its illegality) and customs verification. The case was then entrusted to the central office for the fight against crime related to information and communication technologies, a national police service specializing in cybercrime. It operates mainly alongside the center for combating digital crimes of the national “gendarmerie” and the investigation unit for information technology fraud, which has become the cybercrime unit of the Paris police prefecture.

However, finding individuals is challenging since traditional methods are ineffective on the darknet. Traditional identification techniques based on determining a person’s connection to an IP address are ineffective on the darknet. Moreover, in the case of digital currency use, identifying individuals becomes even more challenging. However, individuals are often identified when they return to the real world, such as during transactions.

The complexity of disputes related to darknets often leads the authorities to refer cases to specialized inter-regional courts.

Among the various offenses committed on the darknet, it seems that the most prevalent is the sale of narcotics. In 2014, a study found that 60% of the products on the dark web were narcotics (excluding pharmaceuticals). Cannabis alone would represent more than 30% of the dark web’s offerings.

Next are pharmaceutical products (especially for their psychotropic properties) and fake documents. The trade in personal information accompanied by dematerialized documents (such as scanning an ID card) is on the rise.

The trade in stolen or counterfeit products mainly involves electronic and luxury goods. These products are usually sold on specialized markets, offering, for example, Apple or Samsung products.

Given the number of scams on the dark web, platform administrators have created a trust-shot system to secure transactions. This system allows a buyer to entrust the payment of a good or service to a third party in the transaction. The third party will only transfer the amount to the seller if the buyer confirms the receipt of the good or the execution of the service. This trusted third party is called escrow. They generally use a multi-signature system to enable settlements.

While requests for assassinations on the dark web are often exaggerated, a worrying phenomenon is the uploading and consumption of pedophilic content and even remote rapes.

Remote rape involves commissioning a rape, sometimes on the other side of the world, to witness it live. There are reportedly several hundred commissioners of remote rapes in France willing to pay a few dozens of euros to witness the rapes of often underage individuals. Commissioners sometimes give orders to those committing the rape. The difficulty faced by authorities, including the Central Office for the Repression of Violence against Persons (OCRVP), lies in the fact that commissioners seek exclusive orders, and therefore, no videos are recorded of rapes and sexual assaults. The evidence is consequently challenging to present in court.

In any case, the commissioner is charged with complicity in rape or sexual assault and will therefore be convicted of rape or sexual assault. Rape in French law is defined as any “act of sexual penetration, of whatever nature, committed on the person of another or on the person of the author by violence, coercion, threat, or surprise is rape” (Article 222-23 of the Penal Code). It is punishable by 15 years of imprisonment and 30 years when committed on a minor under 15 years, when the victim was put in contact with the perpetrator through the use of an electronic communication network for broadcasting messages to an undetermined audience. Rape is punishable by life imprisonment when preceded, accompanied, or followed by torture or acts of barbarism (Article 222-26 of the Penal Code).

Sexual assault constitutes any sexual attack committed with violence, coercion, threat, or surprise (Article 222-22 of the Penal Code). Sexual assault is punishable by 5 years in prison and a fine of €75,000, but the penalties increase to 7 years of imprisonment and €100,000 fine, particularly in cases of injury resulting in a total incapacity for work exceeding 8 days, when committed by several persons acting as author or accomplice, when the victim was put in contact with the perpetrator through the use of an electronic communication network, and are raised to 10 years of imprisonment and €150,000 fine when imposed on a minor under 15 years.

Finally, making offers, promises, or proposing gifts, presents, or any advantages to a person to commit rape, even outside national territory, is punishable, when this crime has neither been committed nor attempted, by ten years of imprisonment and €150,000 fine (Article 222-26-1 of the Penal Code).

The server provides the means to commit the offense and could, therefore, have its liability engaged for complicity in rape or sexual assault. However, in accordance with the provisions of the Law on Confidence in Electronic Commerce, servers are not held liable as long as they play a passive role in the circulation of information on their networks. To engage their liability, it would be necessary to prove that the server necessarily had knowledge of the presence of illicit content on its network. The jurisprudence has been protective of servers, albeit in matters of copyright and freedom of expression. However, it is possible that with the improvement of techniques, a court might consider that a server had knowledge of the presence of an advertisement with illicit characteristics and, as such, hold the server liable for complicity.