The free Internet has its fair share of crusaders, leaders, foundations, activists and martyrs, all with their own motivations, values and moneyed interests. But there’s only one notable open web warrior who’s skin in the game is a mother’s love for her son.
Lyn Ulbricht is the mother of Ross Ulbricht, the alleged Dread Pirate Roberts who’s been accused of running and hosting Silk Road, a deep web black market. She came out swinging at her son’s prosecutors and critics in New York City on Monday at a panel on the deep web (Bitcoin Foundation founder Charlie Shrem was supposed to join the speakers, but was advised not to speak about Silk Road while he awaits sentencing for aiding and abetting unlicensed money transfers).
“They’ve smeared him as some sort of thug all over the world,” Ms. Ulbricht said, accusing the prosecutors of having “no evidence” and trampling her son’s presumption of innocence. “It’s disturbing to me how many people take what the government says at face value and believe it.”
Before her son’s arrest in late 2013, Ms. Ulbricht never once thought about the War on Drugs, cybercrime or the dark web. Now, she can spar over online privacy protection, privacy and prosecutorial misconduct, and has become her son’s most vicious defender—her fund for his legal fees is sneaking up on $300,000 raised in total.
Ms. Ulbricht invokes all of the tropes when talking about online privacy: the Constitution, 1984, and a lot of “not the America I grew up in.” She warns that his case—which has been marred by disappearing charges and dubious search and seizure practices—is being used to set a high profile precedent for larger crackdowns.
“We’re at the birth of the digital age, and we’re at the beginning of a new frontier of the law,” Ms. Ulbricht said. “A lot of these issues haven’t been addressed in courts before, so this case will set precedents.”
By Ms. Ulbricht’s colorful account, prosecuting someone running a website for the illicit things that happen on those sites “could put a chill on the Internet.”
“These kinds of things — and there’s more — have motivated me, beyond Ross, to speak out,” Ms. Ulbricht said. “I guess that’s how you make an activist.”