Judge deems warrants issued by FBI in its honeypot 'Playpen' child porn operation as illegal

FBI Mass Child-Porn ‘Playpen Hack Operation Ruled Illegal on a Technicality

In a major blow to the United States premier investigating agency, a federal judge ruled that the warrants issued by Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) during its honey pot Playpen operation as illegal.

Readers may remember that we had reported back in February, 2016, that the FBI ran a massive child porn site in a bid to lure and catch thousands of pedophiles. The dark web website called Playpen which was accessible only through Tor anonymous browser was confiscated by FBI during an anti-child porn operation. The FBI, in all its wisdom, chose to continue to run the massive child porn website as a honeypot operation in order to trap pedophiles registering on it.

Playpen had massive 215,000 registered members so much so that FBI complaint described the site as “the largest remaining known child pornography hidden service in the world.”

After starting to run a honeypot operation, FBI hosted pedophile content in 9,000 files that could be downloaded directly from the FBI’s servers in suburban Washington.

At the end of it, FBI was able to trap only 137 alleged pedophiles from 215,000 registered members on Playpen.

Now a federal judge has ruled that this entire FBI operation was illegal. The only succour for FBI is that the judgement was given based on technicality rather lack of evidence. The decision was based on a violation of jurisdictional rules, not constitutional ones.

Alex Levin, a Massachusetts man and one of the defendants charged with accessing child porn through Playpen, challenged the warrant on these grounds.

The warrant “allowed government agents to conduct a borderless dragnet search with no geographic limitation,” wrote Levin’s lawyer, J.W. Carney, in a court filing.

Current law, Carney added, “simply does not permit a magistrate judge in Virginia to authorize the search of the defendant’s computer located in Massachusetts.”

U.S. District Judge William Young agreed on Wednesday, writing that the warrant “was issued without jurisdiction and thus was void.”

“It follows that the resulting search was conducted as though there were no warrant at all,” he added. “Since warrantless searches are presumptively unreasonable, and the good-faith exception is inapplicable, the evidence must be excluded.”

The judgement now makes it difficult for FBI to prosecute Levin and 136 others charged with pedophile crimes.

FBI has been a strong votary of  need to change the rules so that judges could authorize warrants for electronic searches in multiple locations or even when investigators don’t know the physical location of a device.

But tech companies such as Google, computer scientists and privacy advocates have decried the potential change, which they believe would give the FBI the authority to hack computers with little oversight.

A national court policymaking group already approved the government’s request to change the rules. But both the Supreme Court and Congress must eventually sign off on the change, which would go into effect on Dec. 1 if approved.