2016-10-14

Lawyer: Dark Web Child Porn Site Ran Better When It Was Taken Over by the FBI

Lawyer: Dark Web Child Porn Site Ran Better When It Was Taken Over by the FBI

https://motherboard.vice.com/read/lawyer-dark-web-child-porn-site-ran-better-when-it-was-taken-over-by-the-fbi

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Date: 2016-08-23

In February 2015, the FBI took control of Playpen, the largest dark web child pornography site at the time. But instead of shutting the site down, the agency kept it going for just under two weeks, in order to deliver malware to its visitors in the hope of identifying suspects in its investigation.

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.

“As a result, the number of visitors to Playpen while it was under Government control [increased] 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 on the site,” he continues.

"Government agents worked hard to upgrade the website’s capability to distribute large amounts of child pornography quickly and efficiently"

According to archived messages on the Playpen site filed alongside Adolf’s motion, users were complaining of Playpen’s sluggish service around the time the site was taken over.

“I’ve been having trouble getting in here all day, took forever just to reply to this so guess there is still some server trouble. Wish all the best in getting in [sic] fixed,” one user called “verycute” wrote on February 21, 2015.

Shortly after, on February 23, someone in control of a Playpen administrator account wrote, “I upgraded the Token Ring to Ethernet about an hour ago and things seem to be working a bit better.” (A Token ring is a particular type network configuration).

It is not totally clear whether the FBI was in control of this account, though this is what Adolf insinuates.

Regardless, users soon noticed the effects of the tweak.

“Yes, it is working much better now!” one user replied.

“Working FAST today :-)” another wrote.

“It now runs everything very smoothly! :D” a third replied. “Hopefully it will remain so! ???”

Image: a screenshot of an archived version of a thread on Playpen which was included with court documents

Adolf’s motion continues, “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.’”

This is where Adolf’s argument for why his client’s indictment should be thrown out comes in: Echoing the defense team in another case, he says the FBI engaged in “outrageous conduct” by distributing child pornography on a massive scale. Such activity by government agents in an investigation could lead to dismissal of charges if, as Adolf writes, the conduct is “shocking” or “offensive to traditional notions of fundamental fairness.” (A judge previously ruled that the operation did not equate to outrageous conduct.)

What is new here is the defense’s claim that the FBI deliberately improved the site’s functionality for its users, and that this in turn led to more people signing up to Playpen. Adolf does not provide any solid evidence for this apparent causality, but points to the archived Playpen messages which indicate improvements took place.

In July, the Department of Justice wrote in a court document that so far 186 people have been charged as part of this investigation. Motherboard found that the FBI hacked over 4,000 computers, including in countries as far afield as Chile and Austria.

In court documents from other related cases filed on Monday, defense attorneys placed a “conservative estimate” on the number of illegal images distributed by the FBI during its operation of Playpen: 1,000,000.

Christopher Allen, a spokesperson for the FBI, declined to comment on matters pending litigation.



The article is reproduced in accordance with Section 107 of title 17 of the Copyright Law of the United States relating to fair-use and is for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.

1 comment:

Sam Jackson said...

"Whilst I have nothing but sympathy for the parents of dead kids, I think going after the (supposed) owner of a darknet market is born out of anger and not rational thinking. I mean, why not also blame the postman, blame yourself for giving him too much pocket money, blame his friend Liam with the dour demeanour who never looks you in the eye.

All of this simply points to the fact that we desperately, DESPERATELY need drug reform in this country. It’s gunna be very difficult to argue that SR (and by extension, the internet as a whole) has highlighted the negative side of drug use. DNM’s, places like Bluelight and Erowid have IMHO largely (and somewhat ironically) at the forefront of safe and responsible drug use.

And what have we got from our actual elected officials? Idiotic, uninformed, popularist rhetoric.
Regards
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