FBI Apparently Made Darkweb Child Porn Site Faster During Its Hosting Of Seized Server

from the porn-harder! dept

Another FBI/Playpen/NIT case has moved to the point of a motion to dismiss. The lawyer for defendant Steven Chase is arguing the government should abandon its prosecution because the FBI’s activities during its conversion of child porn site Playpen into its own Rule 41-flouting watering hole were “outrageous.” What did the FBI do (besides traveling beyond — far beyond — the warrant’s jurisdiction to strip Tor users of their anonymity) to merit this accusation? It made Playpen a better, faster child porn website. Joseph Cox reports for Motherboard:

Newly filed court exhibits now suggest that the site performed substantially better while under the FBI’s control, with users commenting on the improvements. The defense for the man accused of being the original administrator of Playpen claims that these improvements led to the site becoming even more popular.

“The FBI distributed child pornography to viewers and downloaders worldwide for nearly two weeks, until at least March 4, 2015, even working to improve the performance of the website beyond its original capability,” Peter Adolf, an assistant federal defender in the Western District of North Carolina, writes in a motion to have his client’s indictment thrown out.

The government generally isn’t known for efficiency or immediate improvements, but the filing [PDF] points out that the gains were exponential.

From there the FBI distributed child pornography to viewers and downloaders worldwide for nearly two weeks, until at least March 4, 2015, even working to improve the performance of the website beyond its original capability. As a result, the number of visitors to Playpen while it was under Government control from an average of 11,000 weekly visitors to approximately 50,000 per week. During those two weeks, the website’s membership grew by over 30%, the number of unique weekly visitors to the site more than quadrupled, and approximately 200 videos, 9,000 images, and 13,000 links to child pornography were posted to the site.

A better child porn site, brought to thousands of criminal suspects all over the world by your tax dollars. What a time to be alive!

The motion to dismiss points out that making it easier and faster to download child porn images runs contrary to assertions the government has made in support of prosecutions and stricter penalties for child porn viewers.

This behavior is all the more shocking because the federal government itself – in sentencing memoranda, online mission statements, reports to congress, press releases, and arguments before this very Court and many others – has repeatedly emphasized that victims of child pornography are revictimized each and every time their images are viewed online. Despite these frequent pronouncements, the government here made no attempt during the two weeks it was running the site to reduce the harm to innocent third party victims by limiting the ability for users to view or access the images. Indeed, government agents worked hard to upgrade the website’s capability to distribute large amounts of child pornography quickly and efficiently, resulting in more users receiving more child pornography faster than they ever did when the website was running “illegally.”

And once the images have been downloaded from a (faster) source, they can be redistributed elsewhere, furthering the damage done to victims of child pornographers. It really can’t be argued that the ends justified the means.

Once the government seized the server hosting the Playpen site, it possessed a wealth of information it could use to criminally prosecute users without resorting to operating the site for two weeks. Even if the government wanted to deploy an NIT, it could have done so without also rendering the Playpen site functional. It could have, for example, disabled access to the images of child pornography, turned off the ability to upload pictures or videos, or even just run the site for a much shorter period of time.

Moreover, as noted above, the government has charged less than 1% of Playpen members, the same percentage of users it already had IP addresses for on the day it seized the site. It cannot be that the government may distribute child pornography to a thousand users for each user it catches, particularly when it already has the necessary information to identify the same number of users before it had distributes a single image.

The defense points to a message [PDF] posted to the forums after the site was seized by the FBI as evidence the agency improved the site to better serve users (with its NIT). A Playpen administrator’s account stated the following on February 28th, eight days after it took control of the site.

I upgraded the Token Ring to Ethernet about an hour ago and things seem to be working a bit better.

This is what the FBI will do to further its investigations: it will become a better distributor of illegal material than the criminals it’s going after. The filing notes that a conservative estimate of the number of images distributed during the FBI’s two-week hosting stint sits around one million.

Also of note: throwaway email accounts are to be expected when users create accounts at child porn sites. But I honestly expected more from the President of the United States.

The motion makes good points about the FBI’s apparently hypocritical child porn distribution and points out it had many options — including disabling image downloads — to pursue that would still have allowed it to serve up its NIT to the site’s visitors. Unfortunately, courts have a hard time finding law enforcement activity to be “outrageous” enough to toss cases. And in this particular prosecution, it’s the worst of the worst being prosecuted: a child porn viewer.



Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “FBI Apparently Made Darkweb Child Porn Site Faster During Its Hosting Of Seized Server”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
47 Comments
Coyne Tibbets (profile) says:

Little Red...well...

“Oh! Uncle,” he said, “What wonderful pictures you have!”

“All the better to entrap you,” was the reply.

“But, Uncle, what clever spyware you have!” he said.

“All the better to locate and identify you.”

“But, Uncle, what large servers you have!”

“All the faster for you to download many, many pictures; to fill your harddrive with multiple counts.”

“Oh! but, Uncle, what a terrible big jackboots you have!”

“All the better to crush you with!”

And scarcely had the Uncle said this, than thirty brutal SWAT officers arrested the hapless downloader.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Value for Taxes

Hey, credit where it’s due, if there’s one thing the FBI is actually capable of it’s encouraging and facilitating the committing of crimes.

Whether that’s finding (often literally) mentally challenged people to rope in as ‘terrorists’ or facilitating a massive increase in the viewing and spread of child porn, they’ve had plenty of practice taking a bad situation and making it worse.

Personanongrata says:

Expedient Motives will Never be Mistaken for Justice

And in this particular prosecution, it’s the worst of the worst being prosecuted: a child porn viewer.

The fact that it’s the worst of the worst does not justify the methods employed by the government (FBI) entrapping these people into committing a crime.

In a nation that valued justice above living in a carceral dystopia cases of government entrapment would never see the inside of a court room.

Anonymous Coward says:

So the supposed “good guys” here have created terrorists, probably funded several drug kingpins in order to catch them (without actually being able to) and now distributed child porn in massive ammounts…
Well done! They are starting to make the big global evil organizations in a James Bond movie look insignificant and incompetent.

I wonder, if the talley could be calculated with any accuracy, if they have actually created more criminals than they have removed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Outrageous?

“Unfortunately, courts have a hard time finding law enforcement activity to be “outrageous” enough to toss cases.”

Well, yeah. It’s not very intuitive to say “The government’s conduct in running this child porn site was outrageous – therefore, we need to let the guy who was originally running the site go free.” That just doesn’t make sense.

The proper response is to fire whoever in the FBI made the decision to run the site. But the courts can’t do that. All they can do is toss cases and/or evidence, really. That *might* be the proper response in regards to the users they caught this way… but as for the guy running the site, the government’s conduct occurred *after* they had seized the site, and I don’t think he should benefit from that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Same Tactics, Same Results

It’s the War on Drugs redux. They’re going after the consumers, not the producers, because they’re easier, more catchable targets. So their statistics on “closed cases” look better, more funding all around, etc. etc. And we all know how wildly successful the WOD has been at stamping out illegal drugs.

Meanwhile, how often do we hear about producers being hunted down?

When Pigs FLY says:

I’m surprised no one mentions the fact that these law enfarcement schemes have other goals, beyond PR campaigns and goodguyism: entrapment creates controlled assets, and targets certain individuals for further control.

For example, senators in Washington are in lickstep in every single Constituion breaching secret law passed sine 9/11. Granting that senators are not necessarily ethical people, it sems that in the leat a congressman or two 2ould stand up against this jackboot insanity.

But they don’t-why? I suggest they and many other keybplaters beome controlled assets via this NSA throughvIsrael and back to the FBI scheme with our online activities. These cp caees are just one more piece of leverage to control decision makers.

Look what they did to MLK with the famous suicide letter, or how the Kennedy’s skated with adultery charge. In the 60’s Cointelpro, adultery, though illegal in many tates, was overlooked when it dame to controlling assets.

When Pigs FLY says:

I’m surprised no one mentions the fact that these law enfarcement schemes have other goals, beyond PR campaigns and goodguyism: entrapment creates controlled assets, and targets certain individuals for further control.

For example, senators in Washington are in lickstep in every single Constituion breaching secret law passed sine 9/11. Granting that senators are not necessarily ethical people, it seems that in the least a congressman or two sould stand up against this jackboot insanity.

But they don’t-why? I suggest they and many other keyplayers become controlled assets via this NSA through Israel and back to the FBI scheme with our online activities. These cp caees are just one more piece of leverage to control decision makers.

Look what they did to MLK with the famous suicide letter, or how the Kennedy’s skated with adultery charge. In the 60’s Cointelpro, adultery, though illegal in many states, was overlooked when it came to controlling assets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Lots of unwarrented whining

OK, the FBI did whatever it did but the arguments presented here are absurd. Entrapment? I think not even remotely. We have two groups of “users” of this particular site: 1) those who had previously visited and 2) new visitors. In either case both groups were breaking the law. No one forced them to come to the site. And, for the new users, I presume they found the site by a google search (not some coercive FBI sting operation). Suppose the FBI had not hosted the site – those new users would have just clicked to the next search result and, again, broken the same laws. FWIW, I applaud the FBI for catching as many of these criminals as possible (within legal bounds, of course). Child porn and trafficking are, IMHO, the most insidious of crimes. Your arguments about the FBI leaving a website where criminals frequent up and running will fall only on your own deaf ears. Short story, don’t look for or visit these sites and don’t find yourself in court defending yourself/others by saying it’s the FBI’s fault.

Capt ICE Enforcer says:

Disturbed

Personally. What I find hideous is that law enforcement will not put any effort in saving these children and arresting those doing the bad things to them. Instead, law enforcement would rather allow the bad people to do the physical harm of the children in order to go after the sick people who watch it online…

Whatever says:

Techdirt hates it when law enforcement actually does something that results in criminal prosecutions.

I wish the site was still up identifying those who seek child porn. They need to tie a can to the tail of those fuckers and make sure everyone knows who they are. If “entrapment” (what the rest of us would call a “sting” operation) is what gets it done, then entrap away!

In favorite Techdirt-ism, the ends justify the means.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Indeed, how could anyone possibly object to a government agency not just running a site hosting child porn but actually making it more efficient, to attain absolutely nothing they didn’t already have?

Guess you missed this part in your haste to defend the government’s actions in assisting the distribution of child porn on a wider scale:

Moreover, as noted above, the government has charged less than 1% of Playpen members, the same percentage of users it already had IP addresses for on the day it seized the site. It cannot be that the government may distribute child pornography to a thousand users for each user it catches, particularly when it already has the necessary information to identify the same number of users before it had distributes a single image.

Had they shut down the site the day they took control of the servers they would have been in the same position as they were after two weeks of running it and facilitating the spread and viewing of child porn. You may see nothing wrong with the government getting in the business of distributing child porn ‘to a thousand users for each user it catches’, but some of us have slightly different priorities.

Whatever says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Indeed, how could anyone possibly object to a government agency not just running a site hosting child porn but actually making it more efficient, to attain absolutely nothing they didn’t already have?

Guess you missed this part in your haste to defend the government’s actions in assisting the distribution of child porn on a wider scale:”

In the overall scheme of things, using such an EXISTING site to locate more predator types in the world isn’t a bad thing. Without law enforcement action, the site would have gone on forever.

“Had they shut down the site the day they took control of the servers they would have been in the same position as they were after two weeks of running it and facilitating the spread and viewing of child porn.”

Short term thinking. Have you considered that, rather than prosecuting those people, they are instead working with law enforcement around the world to look into these people to see what they may be up to? Charging people is the END RESULT of investigation, not the starting point. What they collected in a couple of weeks might take a year or more to work through, and might take even longer than that for different agencies to investigate the people involved.

I wasn’t born with the internet already in place, so I guess I have every so slightly more patience than you do.

anonymous says:

the war on CP is a moral panic

The war on CP is based on four primary things.

_____

1. The mystical belief that every time someone looks at an image of CP, it causes the child to feel like they have been raped all over again.

http://fox8.com/2012/05/21/former-pastor-sentenced-to-prison-on-child-porn-charges/

“every single time someone downloads their videos or looks at their videos they feel like they are being raped all over again”

Or actually causes it to happen all over again;

https://www.dailyherald.com/article/20120116/news/701169906/

“… every time somebody looks at that image it’s like the crime is taking place all over again…”

This is obviously not true, and is a superstitous belief similar to voodoo.

______

2. The claim that there is a multi billion dollar CP industry abusing children for a profit, and that the only way to put them out of business is to make it illegal to view CP.

Despite being taken as truth by everyone from Congress

http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/local/cop_shop/article_2ee0f064-7888-11df-9e7a-001cc4c03286.html

“commercial child porn is a $20 billion a year industry — a figure cited in a 2006 congressional hearing”

To the United Nations

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/32880508/ns/technology_and_science-security/t/un-expert-child-porn-internet-increases/


More than 4 million Web sites worldwide show images of children being sexually exploited, said the U.N. investigator on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Najat M’jid Maalla.

Maalla urged international cooperation to stop the child pornography industry, which she estimated to be worth between $3 billion and $20 billion. She recommended countries share information on sites containing child pornography in order to block them faster.”

These claims are provably false, and were fabricated as urban legends;

http://libertus.net/censor/resources/statistics-laundering.html#s20billion


“child pornography is a $20 billion industry worldwide”

This out-of-date/discredited $20 billion ‘statistic’ was given new life in March 2008 when it appeared in Australian media reports as a result of a joint media release between the Australian Federal Police and Microsoft. The statistic was disowned in April 2006 by the organisations to which it had been, and still is being, attributed (i.e. the FBI and Unicef).

http://libertus.net/censor/resources/statistics-laundering.html#s3bfg


This ‘$US3 billion’ figure has no credibility and even if it was factual as at January 2008, (when it appeared in an opinion article by Bernadette McMenamin, CEO of Child Wise/ ECPAT in Australia, with citing a source), then it could be regarded as ‘good news’ because it would mean (based on previously promulgated ‘statistics’) that there had been no increase at all in the five years to 2008, therefore ‘child pornography’ could not be “one of the fastest growing online businesses”.

______

3. The belief that either through conditioning, or supply and demand, that people viewing CP will cause the child sex abuse rates to increase.

This claim has nothing in support of it though, and is contradicted by all of the peer reviewed academic literature, for example this publication in springer

https://www.springer.com/about+springer/media/springer+select?SGWID=0-11001-6-1042321-0

“Legalizing child pornography is linked to lower rates of child sex abuse”

It turns out, when pedophiles and such view CP, it replaces contact offending for them, causing significant decreases to child sex abuse rates in countries that have legalized viewing CP.

_____

4. The idea that a large percentage of people who view CP are child molesters to begin with.

Most of the research stating this claims that a massive percentage of people who view CP are child molsters, however these studies are all suffering from serious and numerous selection biases, in some cases they are including people in the study set that were originally detected for contact offending in the first place

http://libertus.net/censor/resources/statistics-laundering.html#ncm40


“40 per cent of arrested child pornography possessors sexually abused children”

84% of the dual offenders were discovered in cases starting as investigations of child sexual victimization which subsequently turned up child pornography possession

But in all cases the people in these studies are part of a selection biased sample of those who were arrested after being detected, this consists of 1% of people detected with CP due to the massive numbers of such people and limited police resources, and they are more likely to arrest contact offenders because of the metrics some of the law enforcement agencies use when deciding who to follow up on.

Other studies put the percentage at only 1% of CP viewers being contact offenders, and it is largely accepted in academia that child porn viewers and child molesters are distinct sets with only a small degree of intersection.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/07/090713201446.htm

Read the full study to see that 1% were determined as having contact offended prior to arrest, this quote only says 1% did in the 6 years afterwards.

“When investigating the prevalence of internet child pornography consumption, an important practical question is whether consumers of child pornography pose a risk for hands-on sex offenses. Our results support the assumption that these consumers, in fact, form a distinct group of sex offenders. Probably, the motivation for consuming child pornography differs from the motivation to physically assault minors. Furthermore, the recidivism rates of 1% for hands-on and 4% for hands-off sex offenses were quite low.”

__________

The situation with CP is a moral panic

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wicked-deeds/201507/moral-panic-who-benefits-public-fear

and it is counter productive to the goal of protecting children from sexual abuse. I know this may come as a shock to you, and you may not believe me, but it is extremely well supported. CP viewing should be decriminalized, it should still of course be illegal to produce it, distribution of it is certainly a copyright violation and maybe even should remain illegal but with massively reduced penalties, and the focus should switch to treatment, taking this approach has been proven by multiple academic studies as resulting in the largest decrease to child sex abuse rates.

This situation is currently similar to the war on marijuana, and yes I do know there is a huge difference between CP and marijuana in that a child is abused to produce CP and child abuse should of course be illegal, as should paying for child abuse etc, but people are not getting the real facts here, and the war on CP viewers is increasing harm to children and is primarily benefiting the industry that has built up around it, and that is just the honest truth.

Tin-Foil-Hat says:

POS

I’m glad that at least some consumers and distributors of child pornography were caught. And it’s not entrapment. Not even close. I don’t think that this criminal should get away with it just because of the FBI is manned by retards. WTF? Does the FBI share a building with the NSA? Both of those agencies have a serious problem. They seem to have forgotten their mission and the millions of other people besides themselves and their targets that they’ve put at risk.

Rekrul says:

A few years I read an article which stated that when someone is accused of possessing child porn, the FBI won’t even allow their defense to have an image of the hard drive so that it can be examined by an independent expert. Their reasoning was that they couldn’t risk the images/videos on the drive being further distributed. A defense expert would have to examine the drive in a secure FBI facility under the watchful eye of FBI agents.

Kind of puts things in perspective that the FBI would not only run, but improve a child porn distribution site for two weeks, but then refuse to allow the suspect’s defense lawyers easy access to the data being used against them.

Sok Puppette (profile) says:

"Worst of the worst"

That hyperbolic BS has to end.

Others have already pointed out that CP distributors must be worse than viewers.

I’d like to further point out that there are plenty of sick fucks out there who torture all kinds of people, including children, in all kinds of ways, many of which have permanent effects up to and including death, and many of which have nothing to do with porn or sex.

“Worst of the worst” is just lazy.

Anonymous Coward says:

“…it’s the worst of the worst being prosecuted: a child porn viewer.”

It is interesting how – somehow – we have been pushed as a society, to see the buyers of the flat 2 dimensional product of the child pornography industry, as a far greater evil, than those who kidnap, incarcerate, and force living children to pose and perform for the camera.

I can understand the apparent logic – no buyers means no market, thus no industry, and an end to the problem – or at least massive diminishment of the problem.

As long as you can also wave your wand and make all the manufacturers forget how much money they’ll be losing out on, and erase the memory of naked children from the minds of men globally. Or you could remove children to creches in Siberia, Guam or Tripoli at birth…

Personally, I consider the manufacturers of child pornography to be the far greater evil of the two, but the general consensus seems to be that they are just business men, not sick perverts like the buyers….

C’est la vie eh.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...