Jury selection in Ulbricht’s trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday in a federal courtroom in New York. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
Prosecutors allege 30-year-old Ulbricht made millions since 2011, when he founded and began operating the site where tens of thousands of people purchased cocaine, heroin, and other drugs, earning it the nickname "Amazon.com for drugs."
Operating under the nickname “Dread Pirate Roberts,” a nod to the film “The Princess Pride,” Ulbricht also allegedly attempted to organize the murder of six people who threatened his enterprise.
— Chris Ellis (@MrChrisEllis) January 12, 2015
Since the outset, the case has been shadowed by questions surrounding the legality of the methods investigators used to pursue Ulbricht. His attorneys claim the FBI, or possibly even the NSA, illegally accessed Silk Road’s servers overseas.
According to Ahmed Ghappour, a cyber-security and computer hacking lawyer and law professor at UC Hastings, that argument hits at the heart of concerns over privacy and state surveillance.
"How was the government able to obtain the location of the server in Iceland? It seems very likely that what happened was… the equivalent to a hack," Ghappour told VICE News.
And because prosecutors allege Silk Road was being used to traffic drugs, it acted as a co-conspirator with drug dealers. Therefore, finding Ulbricht guilty for the actions of the site's users could impact the liability of other businesses going forward.
"Well, is Yahoo liable for pedophiles using their Briefcase [cloud storage] to store illegal data? Is FedEx liable for shipping illegal drugs sold on the internet?" Ghappour asked.