SXSW Review: ‘Deep Web’ explores the story of Ross Ulbricht, ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ and the Silk Road

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Ross Ulbricht, convicted as "Dread Pirate Roberts"

“Deep Web” is not a great documentary, but it is an important story.

Ross Ulbricht, convicted as "Dread Pirate Roberts"

Ross Ulbricht, convicted as “Dread Pirate Roberts”

Directed by Alex Winter, “Deep Web” explores the complicated legal battle of Westlake High graduate and former Austin resident Ross William Ulbricht, recently convicted of being ‘Dread Pirate Roberts,’ creator and operator behind Silk Road, the online black market best known as platform for the sale of illegal drugs.

“Deep Web,” which refers to the unindexed Internet (think: the parts of the web Google doesn’t cover) is essentially The Case for Ross, who is presented as a thoughtful libertarian and Eagle Scout prone to espouse ideas such as “government has no place in a free society” and that Silk Road was about “a new relationship between individuals and the government.”

The website launched as Tor service (enabling anonymous browsing) in February 2011. The website, which may have been crawling with Feds as early as mid-2012, especially after a Gawker article from July 2011 drew attention to it (with a strong signal books thanks to Sen. Chuck Schumer).

Ulbritcht was arrested in 2013. He was convicted in federal court earlier this year of narcotics trafficking, conspiracy, participating in a continuing criminal enterprise and other charges.

Narrated by Winters’ one-time “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” co-star Keanu Reeves, “Deep Web” recounts these events mostly with talking heads, including Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg, who covered the case, various federal investigators, anonymous dealers and Ulbricht’s parents, who still split their time between Austin and Costa Rica, where they Costa Rican vacation rental complex.

“Deep Web” supports the contention, long held by  Ulbricht, that several Silk Road administrators had access to the “Dread Pirate Roberts” nom de Web and that is was one of these other users, not UIbricht, that may have solicited murder for hire over the site. Indeed, putting out hits does not jibe with Ulbricht’s persona as presented in “Deep Web” (though Winter was not able to interview Ulbricht).

The film also says that Ulbricht’s lawyers were never able to mount a real defense at trial defense experts were precluded and and defense evidence was excluded, including evidence that the federal government may have violated the Fourth Amendment against illegal search and seizure in this case.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in May, but is seeking a new trial, arguing that the government failed to disclose exculpaotry evidence.

“Deep Web” screens again 5 p.m. Monday at Alamo Slaughter and 11 a.m. Wednesday at Stateside.

 

 


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