Click This Link, Go To Jail

from the wide-open-to-abuse dept

Declan McCullagh has written up an article about a questionable tactic used by the FBI to go after people looking for child porn. It set up a honeypot server and then posted links to it on a forum frequented by those who are looking for child pornography. It then used the IP address of people who clicked on the link as enough evidence to charge them with a crime. In the specific case McCullagh discusses, the guy was found guilty of simply clicking on that link. Of course, it’s always difficult to separate out legal discussions like this from the fact that it involves child pornography — which immediately sets off an emotional response. The problem here, though, is that the evidence on which the guy was found guilty could be used to find many people guilty of many things. The FBI didn’t even track the referrer log — just who went to the site. In other words, if someone had taken that link out of the forum and posted it on another site, a blog or sent an email around — and anyone clicked on it without knowing anything about the link, they could have broken the law. This is open to tremendous abuse. If all you need to do to get someone convicted of child porn charges is get them to click a link, that doesn’t seem right. Furthermore, in this case, the only other evidence was two small (admittedly questionable) thumbnail images, that there was no evidence that the guy looked at. In other words, to have enough evidence to convict someone and send them to jail for years (and get them listed as a sex offender), you could just send them an email with a link and some thumbnail images attached. If they click on the link (even if they don’t ever look at the attached files), that’s enough evidence, according to this case. That seems incredibly problematic.

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Comments on “Click This Link, Go To Jail”

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52 Comments
Josh says:

Or even don't click the link and still go to jail.

That’s truly scary. Even if you don’t click the link yourself, you could fall into this.

Theres at least one plugin for Firefox that will download a page in the background before you ever click on it (such as if you hover your mouse over the link) for faster browsing.

Another plugin can download all links that point to images or video on a single page in 1 click instead of having to manually save each one.

And as far as webserver logs, there’s no distinguishable difference between a link you actually clicked and one a plugin cached or saved for you.

Josh says:

Re: Or even don't click the link and still go to j

Thinking further, what about NAT, a spoofed IP, inaccurate ISP IP logs, and all the other issues about getting an IP address to match to a human being.

At best, that kind of information is enough for a warrant for a search of the computer. But clicking a link and then no other evidence is enough for a 10 year sentence and 15 years registered as a sex offender?

jm says:

Bots, spiders and aggregators.

The absurdity and ignorance of this tactic are especially glaring when you consider potential liabilities for anyone in charge of companies whose business requires web sampling, searching, spidering and so on. Because if all your need is a successful HTTP request for criminal guilt, there are many centuries of jail time waiting for big chunks of the web industry. Obviously this won’t happen to the Big Guys, but what about the rest? Chilling effects, anyone?

Scott (user link) says:

Worse than stated

All thats necessary is to embed this in an invis frame and pack it into a Viagra spam and you would get thousands of hits without people knowing. Use a common drive-by method to do this and you could hit more.

I wonder what happens when an invis frame is embedded in a rouge doubleclick ad and the server gets hit will a billion requests from random people around the country.

Anonymous Coward says:

Click on a link and go to jail is a long way from click on a link and get a search warrant issued so the FBI can take a look at your computer.

That being said, if the FBI threw this guy on the ground when he opened the door and then entered his house for the search, how did the guy destroy his hard drive and flash drive?

Pickles and Cheese Dip says:

> Click on a link and go to jail is a long way from
> click on a link and get a search warrant issued so
> the FBI can take a look at your computer

Read the article. The dude was convicted for clicking the link.

> That being said, if the FBI threw this guy on the
> ground when he opened the door and then entered his house
> for the search, how did the guy destroy his hard drive
> and flash drive?

Also in the article. Basically the dude had destroyed these before anyone showed up at this door.

The guy might be a perv, but convicting someone because an IP address is associated to a weblog is really scary shit.

IP spoofing anyone?

James says:

Once again, the idiotic lawmakers have done it aga

Yes, watching child pornography is bad, not only bad but morally wrong. I’m not trying to decrease the severity of kitty porn viewers, but what about the guys actually making the videos? What about child trafficking? What about abused foster children? These damned people are wasting their time with stupid methods of capturing wanna-be pedophiles (for the most part). When there are other so many other thing wrong in society.

Rich Kulawiec says:

And then there's malware...

…enbed it in the next virus/worm, set a timer, and at the given hour, 500,000 systems all over the world hit the link at once.

This is off-the-scale stupid. The people responsible should be publicly identified, publicly fired, and publicly blacklisted from all law enforcement activities for life. We simply can’t tolerate people in positions of power who have such clearly inferior intellectual abilities — they’re not good enough to be public servants.

Greg says:

Links to jail

Scarey. I was shown in a course on Internet use in the clasroom just how easy it is to get into a place you never intended to. Simple .com instead of .gov can get you there. I was even standing by a student and sawhim enter “clothing” in a Google site and get a porn picture. It wasn’t the type of porn he’d have chosen on purpose.

I would be suspicious if students printed pictures or stayed on the sie, but you can’t be rediculous–and the FBI shouldn’t be either.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think charging someone with clicking on a link is absurd. That said, i find it hard to believe that the only evidence were internet logs. I just don’t believe that would stand up in court. Unless the evidence was pretty damning, there will be an appeal.
What is disturbing, is that some log file is enough to get a search warrent. Hopefully they had to show a lot more evidence then just one click, before they could get a search warrent. That would set a presidence (sp), saying you can search anyone’s house and computer if your “illegal link” was accessed from there.
In a broader sense, this hurts the internet as a whole. It makes the FBI a sort of internet terrorist. I understand the child pornography issue, but if you take this to a maxum, the government can use any information you or your computer give as evidence as long as they own the site.
Think of it this way: It’s not thier fault your computer got a virus that uploaded your whole hard drive to an FBI server.

Wolf says:

I have never liked the idea of entrapment. You basically tempt someone into comitting the crime. It’s good if you’re a cop or prosecutor… gets all your numbers up, for when budget time comes around… and a bonus for the latter, it generates headlines and (for the next election) name recognition. Government is totally out of control in this country, and as a veteran, this is of great concern to me. The behavior of our public so-called “servants” is shameless.

Anonymous Coward says:

That's the Law

If all you need to do to get someone convicted of child porn charges is get them to click a link, that doesn’t seem right.

That’s just the way the law and “justice” operate in the US. This isn’t really all that new either. Even before the Internet it was a felony to receive child pornography in the mail. They didn’t to show that you requested or even wanted it. Just that you received it. It was, and still is, an easy way for any enemy to ruin your life. All they have to do is to anonymously tip off the postal inspectors that you are receiving child porn in your mail and then mail some to you.

Anonymous Coward says:

The biggest distributer of kiddy porn is...

It set up a honeypot server and then posted links to it on a forum frequented by those who are looking for child pornography.

I remember reading about a kiddy-porn-through-the-mail case back in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s where it was revealed in court that the biggest distributer of KP in the US at that time was actually the US government itself running various “sting” (honeypot) operations. Looks like things haven’t changed much.

Javarod says:

Re: The biggest distributer of kiddy porn is...

There was a case back in the late 80s, school bus driver’d bought two magazines that at the time were still legal in CA. Years go by, store gets busted for not only continuing to sell those softcore magazines, but also hard core, and it’d kept a customer list. For the next two years, the government stuffed the guy’s PO box with ads for books, magazines, movies, pen pals and more. When he finally ordered something, they busted him. Case was thrown out for entrapment, for all their trouble, there was no proof that he’d so much as looked at a kid wrong, and he’d purchased nothing after the law changed, in other words despite his interests, he was willing to abide by the law. Seems the government’s habits never change much, do they?

Strangeratrandom says:

There is way more to the Govt’s abuse of power then this one story. The Gov’t needs to be stopped in there tracks. There are parents out there who have to pay 35% of there income to support a child thats been forced to live with the other parent. Think about it, 35% of your Gross income, Subtract it from your Gross next time you get paid, Then subtract the taxes they took out of your check. and see what you come up with to live on untill you get paid again.

Rekrul says:

The idea that someone could be convicted of simply clicking a link is just beyond ridiculous! What if I take such an URL then use TinyURL to conceal where it really points to and post it on a forum with a message stating that it’s for information on a movie? Are they going to send everyone who unwittingly clicks on the link to prison?

It seems that all reason and common sense goes right out the window as soon as “child pornography” is mentioned. Child abuse is wrong, but is it any reason to start the modern equivalent of a witch hunt? From what I’ve read, child pornography wasn’t even illegal until the late 1970s or early 1980s. Was there a child abuse epidemic back then? If not, why is it considered so much more a problem today that people have to be locked up and have their lives ruined for even attempting to look at it?

mike_lee says:

I don't buy the FBI

This guy is a doctoral student he would be smart enough to use a proxy. The tiny grainy thumbs were a thumbs.db file of naked girls – how can you make being naked a crime? We’re born naked, we wear clothes for protection and style but we’re still at the heart of the matter humans. Sheep have wool, men have skin. . .

I’m not doing a good job of expressing my point. Grown ups having sex with children I can see and in a sense support criminalizing. But going to prison for 10 years for looking at something seems extreame

Anonymous Coward says:

Wade Luders is an enemy of liberty; he and all tyrants like him should be put to the sword. Just as the federal government used “terrorists gonna git ya!”-themed propaganda to push and pass the heinously unconstitutional “Patriot” Act, and just as it used the same doublespeak to subsequently work all the moronic sheep into a slobbering frenzy of mantra-shouting support for the completely illegal and irrelevant Iraq war (the ultimate aim of which was to financially benefit the U.S. business and power elite), it has now turned to the handy-dandy pedophile to greedily further its own power. Oh, believe me, this is just a stepping stone to greater things, people! Hell, they’ve already crossed the “entrapment” hurdle; before you know it, all it will take is a cross word about the vice president on a forum and . . . DOOR KICK! DOOR SMASH! “Get on the ground, asshole! You are being arrested for possession of child pornography!” “But . . . but . . . what?!” “Remember that lil’ link that you clicked on, sicko? Yeah, you thought you had some nice kiddy porn comin’ up, didn’t ya?” “What the hell?! I never clicked on — ” STOMACH KICK! FACE SMASH! “SHUT THE HELL UP YOU SICK FUCK! You’re coming with us!” The word “pedophile” will be the mark of the beast, and all who openly oppose the Feds’ abuse of power will have it drawn on their foreheads with a magic marker (shittily made in China, of course).

Anonymous Coward says:

Yes,it is still happening ,So with all the technology seems to be some common sense missing.Why would 9 cops take the time to arrest a young man and put him directly to jail that was apparently a big investigation over a stupid link that was pressed.Would seem more suitable for a standoff situation,the man had no idea what is was about,no previous trouble of any kind with the law,All of a sudden he is treated like a child molester and taken to jail on these charges fit for a criminal.

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