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I wasn't sure if I should ask this here or on the Tor site. I think it fits more here.

I came across a Stack Exchange clone on the dark web. I won't go into too much detail or provide a link, but one question was someone requesting advice on how to commit a violent crime. (He has a specific target in mind already, and it looks like he's already cased the house.)

I don't know if it would make any difference (because of Tor's anonymizing), but should I report it? (If so, where to?) Or should I assume that the proper authorities are already monitoring the site?

I'm in the U.S., but I don't know what country the poster is in. If I can do anything to stop this from happening, I would really like to do so.

CORRECTION: I've been conflating the terms "deep web" and "dark web." I'm actually referring to Tor services websites, so the dark web part of the deep web. Sorry if that caused confusion.

I've updated the question to use "dark web" instead of "deep web."

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    I'm fairly certain that you intended to reference the dark web, which is a small (and mostly sinister) subset of the gigantic deep web. Your gmail account is part of the deep web. There is an exact difference. – Wildcard Jan 6 '17 at 10:16
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    Yes, I discovered that I was using the word incorrectly. :D I didn't notice your comment until now, though. – Andrew Jan 6 '17 at 21:06
  • @Wildcard Dark web refers to anything that requires special software to access, whereas deep web refers to anything that is not indexed by public search engines. It is incorrect to claim that the dark net is mostly sinister. Even the illegal material is a small subset of everything. – forest Aug 14 '18 at 2:48
  • @Andrew If you are thinking of the site I am thinking of, it's pretty much entirely consisting of trolls and scammers, and a few genuine individuals giving bad advice. Anyone asking for advice on such a site is likely to not pose a very large threat in the real world. – forest Aug 14 '18 at 2:49
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1/06/17 update regarding comments and other answers:

You can report criminal intent while reasonably remaining anonymous by using various methods, and this will let you do want to do: take an ethical step and make an effort to report the potential crime. Read below.


First of all, using Tor is not illegal. Yes, there is illegal activity on Tor and the dark web it can access, and there is activity that promotes illegal things on Tor and IRL, but that doesn't make you a criminal by default by using a system that can be used by criminals. See Is it legal to use the Tor Network and Tor Software in the United States?

The FBI and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies are well aware of Tor and the dark web; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk_Road_(marketplace) . (That may give you pause because some FBI agents were implicated in crimes when the agency investigated the broader crime.)

Or should I assume that the proper authorities are already monitoring the site?

I wouldn't assume they are already monitoring that particular site, but it's possible; the FBI at least is aware of its existence. It's a good idea to assume they run their own crawlers to index the site, and have agents who are members. Think of all the news stories your read about law enforcement posing as perps online to ensnare people; and then think about how much there is we don't know about these types of activities and their prevalence.

If you really want to be paranoid and know that Tor is not perfect security, and that government agencies have serious power, know that the NSA is well-known to run many Tor exit nodes to packet sniff and store metadata and the full text of traffic (as well as clear, non-dark web traffic, too). And, it's an accepted fact that SSL has been cracked (SSL may or may not be in use in your case or technically relevant right now) by them, too, all re: Snowden.

Deleting Tor from your PC/Mac means nothing; any 5th grader can do forensic analysis and discover the remnants of the Tor browser. Your local ISP may log Tor traffic, as such traffic has a signature. But again, simply using Tor doesn't not make you a criminal, but it could draw attention to you. And warrants get be gotten for ISPs and your PC.

You remaining anonymous overall also assumes that you have not given out any information on that SE clone site that could identify you IRL. If you have, then you need to assess the risks to yourself; that could be your most serious privacy breach to other users beyond any technology (as well as to law enforcement if they for other reasons suspected you of illegal activity yourself.)

That said, if you want to report the possible crime - for either legal or ethical reasons - you can remain mostly anonymous via email.

Use the Tor browser from public wi-fi (try on a USB stick on a public PC and not from your laptop) and sign up for anonymous email with a fake name (breaking their TOS) at Yandex, which does not require phone verification. (Google, Yahoo, etc., require a phone number; this could be a burner or IP phone, but that's up to you). https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/11/tutorial-how-create-anonymous-email-accounts

You could also use one of the various disposable email sites, as pointed out by another user, but some such email domains and services are often automatically flagged as spam or blocked by agencies due to their nature. Try Google for "disposable email".

Ditto the anonymous phone call services or email-to-fax services. There are different methods with different anonymity pros/cons.

And, you could use snail mail, as was pointed out by another user. Mail a printout in a plain envelope (with no fingerprints) in a public mailbox some distance from where you live and usually use the PO; the USPS records metadata on all mail, but this can be reasonably anonymous, with care.

In any case, since you read that the person has already "cased the house" and have a general geographic location, the FBI may take the information (and your tip) seriously and look into the possibility of a crime. If the FBI looks, they may not deem it serious enough - or see enough evidence - to do the work required to find the true IP or other digital forensics to locate the person.

I don't know if it would make any difference (because of Tor's anonymizing)...

But we don't know the other digital breadcrumbs the alleged perp has left; it's possible they could be tracked more extensively online - and then possibly located IRL - by the FBI.

And, if you do send an anonymous tip by any method, you've done what is appears you want to do: take the ethical step and make an effort to report the potential criminal situation.


1/05/17 original answer:

Take a look at FBI Forms — Tips - fbi.gov to submit an email tip:

Please use this website to report suspected terrorism or criminal activity. Your information will be reviewed promptly by an FBI special agent or a professional staff member. Due to the high volume of information that we receive, we are unable to reply to every submission; however, we appreciate the information that you have provided.

And/or there are phone numbers here: Submit a Tip — FBI

  • If you need an emailaddress for signing up and you like to stay anonymous, it is better to use a disposable emailaddress (google these terms and you'll find many). The upside is, these don't keep records and after a few hours the email and its messages are gone. – Abel Jan 6 '17 at 17:46
  • Good point, though such services have issues in being blocked, etc. – BlueDogRanch Jan 6 '17 at 17:55
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    Great information, thanks! And I also know that deleting the Tor browser won't do much to prevent LE from finding what I did on the dark web, and that's something that's worth reiterating-- Deleted data can be recovered from hard drives. I'm not concerned if they do, because I wasn't doing anything illegal on there. The reason I deleted Tor is because I simply don't want to use it anymore. The people I found on there just creeped me out. – Andrew Jan 6 '17 at 21:17
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    " it's an accepted fact that SSL has been cracked" - Nah, not in this broad sense, I suppose, and we are on TLS meanwhile – Hagen von Eitzen Jan 7 '17 at 19:31
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    No, Ryan (the other one) and Hagen are right. It’s extremely misleading to say that the NSA has cracked SSL. – Ry- Jan 8 '17 at 6:51
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don't know if it would make any difference (because of Tor's anonymizing), but should I report it? . . . I don't know what country the poster is in.

Given these circumstances, from a practical perspective, looking at your own self-interest and despite your good intentions, I would not recommend that you try to report it. Without knowing where the crime might be committed or who will carry it out, you cannot provide any actionable intelligence to law enforcement that could prevent the crime. You would not have any legal obligation to volunteer information in this situation, nor would you have any real moral obligation to do so.

But, by flagging yourself as someone who has access to the dark web to law enforcement you make yourself a natural target of suspicion in crimes similar to the one you have reported, in other illegal dark web activity that could be discovered based on a warrant authorized based on the fact that you "associate" on the dark web with violent criminals, or as a potential informant who could be pressured into situations that could put you in peril using your legitimacy on Tor to make contact IRL with perps. Also, if anyone suspected that you were an informant even without IRL contact, you would invite retaliation from other Tor participants against you on or off line.

There is really no upside to you and if you don't have a credible chance of preventing a crime, there is no point in sticking your neck out in a way that could get your head cut off.

  • I appreciate the information and it's definitely something that I'm going to take to heart, but, just so we're clear, browsing the deep web isn't illegal in itself, except certain sites (and this Q&A site wasn't one of them, I don't think). That being said, I do still think you've made a valid point, and it could put me on some kind of list for all I know. (And I deleted the Tor browser from my computer because there's more than enough people there that scare the living daylights out of me.) – Andrew Jan 6 '17 at 9:09
  • "if anyone suspected that you were an informant even without IRL contact.."; the OP has said nothing about revealing themselves on the said SE clone, so this is needless paranoia. – BlueDogRanch Jan 6 '17 at 14:43
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    @Andrew I agree that browsing the deep web, or for that matter the dark web (I see that this point was clarified after my answer) is legal. But, law enforcement has an overbroad prejudice that all Tor browsing involves criminal activity and actively wants to chill that legal conduct and wouldn't be averse to overstating the likelihood that you are engage in criminal activity based upon Tor browsing in an affidavit in support of a warrant. – ohwilleke Jan 6 '17 at 18:31
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    @BlueDogRanch The only scenario in which the tip becomes actionable is if Andrew is convinced to get more information somehow as an informant. Pressuring someone providing an inadequate tip to be a full fledged informant to get sufficient information is SOP for law enforcement; it is a natural and probable outcome. So, either the tip is worthless, or Andrew is asked to turn informant, and if he does, the process of trying to get more information from the perps is an end game that is likely to involve conduct that could arouse suspicion from fellow users and lead to retaliation or risk. – ohwilleke Jan 6 '17 at 18:35
  • @ohwilleke: true, but an email tip with a weblink is no more worthless or actionable than an anonymous letter; and if law enforcement wants to force someone to be an informant, they have to find the person first. Myself, I'd try really hard to not be in a position to be "encouraged" to be an informant. – BlueDogRanch Jan 6 '17 at 20:20
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I agree with the users who suggest you inform the FBI however I not entirely support the idea of saying nothing to avoid casting a shadow over your character. Surfing Tor is not illegal (at least, I pretty sure its not illegal). In broad terms, I believe what you do, not where you do it defines the legality.

If you are concerned about bringing risk on to yourself for something you are unconnected with, then print of a copy of the thread/web page, stick it into an envelope and post it to your local FBI. You could always add a footnote saying you stumbled across the web page but are otherwise unconnected to it and would therefore prefer to stay anonymous.

I recall a friend in the UK saying about 15+ years ago they (with his then girlfriend) were driving at speed on their way to an event (wedding or something) - they passed a house and briefly thought they saw two people trying to bundle a third into the trunk of a car. Possibly a woman. This was before cell phones became popular. They were not sure if it was some daft joke but to this day they always regret not having stopped and used a public phone to ask the police to investigate. It still haunts him that his inaction could possibly have led to serious injury or worse. My point being is that doing nothing will likely give you something to think about. Best you spend the rest of your life thinking that you tried to do something as opposed to having done nothing.

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    "If you are concerned about bringing risk on to yourself for something you are unconnected with, then print of a copy of the thread/web page, stick it into an envelope and post it to your local FBI." Clever low tech solution. The USPS does maintain "metadata" with images of the outside of every envelope mailed which is available without warrant to law enforcement, but using a public mailbox in an urban area and not leaving a return address solves that problem (if truly paranoid also take care not to leave finger prints on the contents or envelope). – ohwilleke Jan 6 '17 at 18:44
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The FBI would be the most obvious choice - they will either have jurisdiction or can refer the matter to those who do.

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