Feds subpoena Reddit for info on DarknetMarkets subreddit users

A US Immigrations and Customs Agency (ICE) special agent has recently issued a subpoena to popular social news site Reddit, asking them to share the information they might have on five users that have been active in the site’s DarknetMarkets subreddit.

The request was for:

  • The subscriber’s name; email address, registration IP address, registration date, current IP address
  • The subscriber’s address
  • The subscriber’s local and long distance telephone toll billing records
  • The subscriber’s records of session times and durations
  • The subscriber’s length of service (including start date) and types of services utilized
  • The subscriber’s telephone or instrument number or other subscriber number or identity, including any temporarily assigned network address
  • The subscriber’s means and source of payment for such service (including any credit card or bank number).

According Gwern Branwen, security researcher and writer who is one of the users whose information was requested, it’s likely that the main goal is to discover the users’ IP address.

“While Reddit may have phone numbers for 2FA and billing information for Gold or advertising, it is unlikely any of our accounts have that and those parts are more boilerplate. (Reddit’s lawyer declined to specify what information would be provided, referring me to the privacy policy.),” he noted in a post on the DarknetMarkets subreddit.

Despite the subpoena including a request for Reddit not to notify the users in question about it, the company did so because administrative subpoenas are not backed by a court, and are not legally binding. They did, however, send the information they have on users to the agency.

The agent asked information about five users: Gwern Branwen, who’s one of the moderators of the subreddit, and users who go by the following Reddit usernames; Evosmith, Z-L, Deepthroat_, and NSWGreat.

Branwen speculates that the agency is looking to discover the identity of NSWGreat, who claims to have been a vendor on the recently collapsed Evolution dark market for illegal goods, as well as a former employee of the outfit.

The other three users have been characterized by Branwen as “trolls” who likely falsely claimed to be able to reveal the identities of the two Evolution administrators that made off with nearly $12 million in Bitcoin.

“My personal vulnerability is relatively low: I am well-aware that as a semi-public figure writing about the black-markets I am doxable, especially by LE, and for that and many other reasons, I have never been a seller, market operator, or market employee, and I have never accepted payment from any of the above; in addition, I have not purchased from any markets for quite some time now (because it would interfere with my self-experiments, true, but nevertheless). However, it is impossible to not violate laws in the USA and I cannot really afford a good legal defense, so I am still worried,” says Branwen.

“Nevertheless, how can I continue as a moderator knowing that all my non-PGPed communications have been laid bare, there may be followup subpoenas for my Gmail account, and I may be under further investigation myself?”

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