FBI ran child porn website serving sexually explicit content to 215,000 users to make 137 arrests

This is how FBI used a porn website to catch people who use child porn sites

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the premier investigative agency of United States of America ran a massive child porn site in a bid to lure and catch thousands of pedophiles. Not only did it run the pedophile website, it also hosted thousands of sexually explicit images of children, some well below kindergarten age, on its own servers in suburban Washington.
The shocking news of this massive honey pot campaign by FBI was outed when one such pedophile sued the United States government on the grounds that the agency enabled him to access the site. The Department of Justice acknowledged in court filings that the FBI had been running the website, known as “Playpen”, as part of a largely secret operation on the dark web.
Playpen was seized by FBI during a ongoing investigation about a pedophile ring on February 20, 2015. Instead of shutting down Playpen after their investigations were complete, FBI continued to run it until May 4 and infect users with malware that revealed their identities.

The massive scale of the pedophile website can be judged from the the fact that it had more than 215,000 registered users, and it had links to more than 23,000 sexually explicit images and videos of children, including 9,000 files that could be downloaded directly from the FBI’s servers in suburban Washington. Some of the children depicted in the illicit files were below kindergarten age.

Using the malware, the FBI was able to capture the identifying computer information of 1,300 users, 137 of whom they managed to bring criminal charges against.

One of the 137 charged by the authorities has now sued FBI for allowing him to access the pedophile website. In a court filing, a lawyer for Jay Michaud, a former middle school who was arrested in the sting, arguing that “what the government did in this case is comparable to flooding a neighborhood with heroin in the hope of snatching an assortment of low-level drug users.”

The lawyer, Colin Fieman, asked a federal judge to dismiss child pornography charges against his client. The judge is set to hear arguments related to that that request on Friday.

The clandestine operation is a relatively recent strategy in the FBI’s fight against online child pornography, according to USA Today. Agents had previously prioritized keeping the images of children out of the public’s reach, due to the Justice Department’s reasoning that every time someone views the images a child is harmed.

However, the FBI acknowledged that their choice to provide the illicit material was one of the only options they had to bring criminals to justice.

“We had a window of opportunity to get into one of the darkest places on Earth, and not a lot of other options except to not do it,” former FBI official Ron Hosko, who took part in the first operation of this kind, according to USA Today. “There was no other way we could identify as many players.”

In addition to being criticized for violating the rights of people charged with accessing the materials, the FBI has drawn fire for distributing more of the illicit materials for more people to see.

“At some point, the government investigation becomes indistinguishable from the crime, and we should ask whether that’s OK,” said Elizabeth Joh, a law professor at the University of California who has studied undercover operations, according to USA Today.

“What’s crazy about it is who’s making the cost/benefit analysis on this? Who decides that this is the best method of identifying these people?”

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