When an American man encouraged two vulnerable people to take their own lives in an online chat-room, the dark depths of the Internet were once again exposed.
From the outside, Mr Melchert-Dinkel seemed like an ordinary husband. A father of two and former male-nurse, this Minnesota man hid a terrible secret.
In 2012 Melrchert-Dinkel was found guilty of aiding the suicide of 19-year-old student, Nadia Kajouji, in 2008 and 31-year-old, Mark Drybrough, in 2005 by posing as a compassionate female nurse. At first his relationship with the two Brits was supportive and compassionate but these relationships soon took a very dark turn as Melchert-Dinkel began to instruct the two on how to take their own lives. His conviction was recently overturned as:
‘The court found that the state’s suicide law, which prohibits the “encouraging” of suicide, was unconstitutional and violated a persons freedom of speech. “Assisting” suicide is still illegal, however.’
This bizarre case opened many eyes to what sort of online communities exist in the deep web but what are the things you need to know about this secret and deeply shady world?
Drybrough committed suicide shortly after posting a question on an online forum about how to hang one’s self without a high ceiling. Posing as Li Dao, a 25-year-old woman who was also suicidal, Melchert-Dinkel started up an email conversation with Drybrough that lasted between July 1 and July 22. Within four days of Drybrough writing the following to “Dao” he was dead:
“I keep holding on to the hope that things might change. Caught between being suicidal and considering it. Same old story! . . . I don’t want to waste anyone’s time. If you want someone who’s suicidal, I’m just not there yet. . . . Sorry. I admire your courage, I wish I had it.”
Three years later, posing as “Cami” and lurking around an online website where people discuss suicide, Melchert-Dinkel started correspondence with Nadia. Merely hours after their final chat, Nadia was dead after jumping into a frozen river. “Cami” had reportedly encouraged Nadia to commit suicide, even suggesting the idea of a suicide pact performed over WebCam.
She wasn’t the only one.
While suicide chat rooms encouraging people to seek help exist on the surface web, the Deep Web hosts many more sites where people are free to engage in darker discussions. Due to the provision of anonymity the Deep Web is often a breeding ground for activity that is normally regulated online.
Read on for more info about the Deep Web.
1. What is the deep web?
Also known as the ‘Invisible Web’, this is the content that can’t be found by common search engines.
2. How big is it?
In all estimations, the deep web is around 500x the size of the surface web (content found by google/yahoo)
3. How do you access it?
You must use a dedicated browser. The most popular router is called TOR (The Onion Router) but other options include 12P and Freenet.
4. Where is it?
Information on the Deep Web is not accessed directly. There is no data held on a single page but rather databases. Files on these databases are also shared through a number of computers which is known as peer-to-peer networking (P2P).
5. Is it Legal?
Yes. The Deep Web can be accessed by anyone and many people are using it to maintain privacy whilst online.
6. Do criminals use it?
Yes. Because of the anonymity the Deep Web provides, it has become a hotspot for underground and illegal activity. Hitmen, weapon trading, child pornography and drug distribution are some examples.
7. What does the future hold?
The Deep Web is a useful tool to remain anonymous online and keep information hidden but this cloak also provides a medium for reprehensible activity to thrive.
As the Deep Web becomes more accessible to the common internet user, we can only expect the Deep Web to expand and with that comes more exposure. Whether this means illegal activity increases or disbands is anyone’s guess.
We’ll have to wait and see.
Computer forensics is a rambling topic with many implications for the future of investigations. As the deep web opens up more spaces for criminal activity the need for professionals to delve into these murky sub-sectors will rise also.