by Susan Basko, esq.
The case of Eric Eoin Marques, the computer genius who invented Tormail and developed Freedom Hosting, an easy-to-use website hosting service for the Dark Web, is now before the Supreme Court of Ireland. Mr. Marques faces extradition to the U.S., which is charging him with various crimes involved in being an internet service provider and hosting company on which some customers allegedly ran websites that trafficked in child abuse pornography.
If extradited to the U.S., Mr. Marques likely faces life in prison. Therefore, Mr. Marques asked the Irish Courts to try him there. He even offered to plead guilty. The Irish Courts refused to try him in Ireland and gave no reasoning for the refusal. Mr. Marques appealed this refusal to give a reason, but lost the appeal. The Appeals Court stated that he was not entitled under law to be given a reason for the refusal.
The case has now been sent to the Irish Supreme Court, which has agreed to a stay in any extradition until after the Court either hears the case or declines to hear the case.
Charging an internet service provider with crimes based on the content of websites owned and operated by the customers of the internet service provider is new, but not uncharted, territory for the U.S. Department of Justice. This is akin to holding Amazon Web Services criminally responsible for the content of all websites hosted on its servers. There has been no allegation that Mr. Marques himself ran the offensive websites.
This case stems out of the federal court in Maryland, USA. This is the same location of the infamous Silk Road case, involving a Dark Web site that sold items for bitcoins. In that case, some of the users of the site sold illicit drugs. The alleged Silk Road site owner, Ross Ulbricht, was held criminally responsible for the drug transactions on the site. As it turned out, two or more of the investigators in the case, including Carl Mark Force IV, of the DEA, and Shaun Bridges of the Secret Service, were eventually charged with stealing large quantities of bitcoins from the Silk Road. Both were charged with federal crimes and sentenced to prison terms. The Maryland-based investigation into Freedom Hosting was in the same time frame as the Maryland-based investigation into Silk Road. Note, the Silk Road case was eventually tried in New York, where the US DOJ claimed a parallel investigation had taken place. The ties to New York are unclear and the main investigator present at the arrest and trial of Ross Ulbricht was Jared Der-Yeghiayan, from the Chicago office of the Department of Homeland Security.
There are numerous parallels between the Silk Road case and the Freedom Hosting case. Both services were started by young men with a knack for creating lucrative internet businesses. Both services operated on the Dark Web. Both ran minimal operations -- though the operator of Silk Road, known as DPR (Dread Pirate Roberts) had a few helpers running forums and such things, Eric Eoin Marques ran Tormail and Freedom Hosting entirely by himself. The Freedom Hosting website assured customers it was not a one-man operation, but it was. Freedom Hosting also assured its customers, in writing on the site, that their sites would not be visited or supervised by the hosting company. The Freedom Hosting Terms Of Service had forbidden the users from using the sites for any illegal purposes.
The Freedom Hosting site offered anyone, for a small cost, the ability to start a Dark Web site with the same ease and familiarity as one might start a Google or Wordpress blog. Tormail offered anonymous email accounts. Both services were innovative and made the highly technical usable by the average person. Both services have been shut down by the U.S. government.
Eric Eoin Marques is autistic, has dual U.S.- Irish citizenship, and lived with his father in Dublin until his arrest several years ago. Mr. Marques was extremely quiet and stayed hidden in his bedroom, where he invented Tormail, founded Freedom Hosting, and ran his businesses. He allegedly left the bedroom once each day to go out to eat at McDonald's. If Mr. Marques is extradited to the U.S., this will impose a great hardship upon his father, who has never been to Maryland and does not know anyone there, but wishes dearly to be there for his autistic son. The father hopes that the Irish Supreme Court will allow this matter to be handled in Ireland. That decision is now in the hands of the Irish Supreme Court.