Last week a Gold Gate Estates man was sentenced to 30 years in prison after a September trial in North Carolina. The story didn’t get much coverage here, since the case was tried out of state (where the websites were being hosted), but he was running his dark-net website Playpen from his computer right here in Southwest Florida. The website may have been the largest child pornography distributor in the world, with up to 250,000 members.
The bust led to an international sting, dubbed “Operation Pacifier”, that netted almost 900 child pornography arrests around the world and some 250+ children victims were identified and/or rescued. That operation has led to a lot of coverage, both due to the success in taking down such a large number of child predators, but also for the criticism of the techniques used by the government. The FBI kept the Playpen site up and running and continuing to distribute child pornography as investigators sought to trace the sites users, going as far to infect them with malware that allowed them to be tracked. We have discussed the legal privacy concerns, and the concerns the federal government running child porn sites (a LOT of them), previously on this blog. The concerns are not unfounded, as there have already been cases where judges rejected using malware to search computers even when the location is unknown.
That didn’t save Chase, who has been locked away for 30 years, with a lifetime of supervision when he gets out. This will qualify him as a sex offender, and the additional sex-offender reporting that legally requires as well.
We previously covered that the FBI operated a major child porn website a while back, but new papers indicate the operations may be even more extensive. Unsealed documents refer to “Websites 1-23”, which seems to suggest almost two dozen child pornography websites that were operated from a government facility. Apparently the procedure was to attach malware to the distributed files to identify the users. Details are still sketchy, but as with the earlier disclosures about the government actively distributing child porn, the ramifications could be troubling.
For several weeks last year, the FBI ran what it admits was one of the largest illegal, child pornography distributing/sharing websites online. They had seized the site, but instead of taking it down, let it run to try to track other users who were downloading from the site. The is a major break from former FBI policy, but apparently they have done it several times in recent years. It’s like ATF’s gunwalking scheme, sometimes referred to as “Fast and Furious” that ended up with a bunch of weapons in the hands of violent drug dealers. It has entrapment overtones, not that they are coercing subjects, but that the behavior of the government so shocks the conscious that they should not be permitted to use this type of procedure to arrest people. We don’t want our government in the business of creating crime, and legal challenges are now underway on cases that were derived from these types of operations.
Ultimately, this signals that these law enforcement agents are more interested in making their prosecutions than they are in preventing crime.