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The FBI recently revealed it ran one of the internet's biggest child pornography websites in a bid to ensnare thousands of paedophiles who downloaded illicit images and videos, and one of those caught in the act is now suing the US government on the grounds the agency enabled him to do it.
In a largely secretive and controversial operation the FBI took control of a site officials discovered on the dark web known as Playpen. Instead of shutting the site down the FBI decided to keep it running for two weeks, infecting it with software that allowed agents to identify thousands of visitors.
While the site was under the control of the FBI it recorded more than 100,000 registered visitors, of which authorities were able to capture the 1,300 computer addresses and charge 137 of those with a criminal offence. One of those includes an unnamed man who has put up his defence accusing the federal government of encouraging content to be viewed on the site.
In the report it claims the accused individual — a former school teacher from the US – who was arrested following the sting has filed a court case against the government stating the FBI enabled individuals to view the content therefore he is not to blame. The lawyer for the man in question argues: "What the government did in this case is comparable to flooding a neighbourhood with heroin in the hope of snatching an assortment of low-level drug users."
The unidentified man is seeking that the judge dismiss the child pornography charges against him but as yet the court case is still to be resolved.
An article in USA Today reveals the FBI hacks have been issued numerous legal challenges on the search warrants agents obtained before they infiltrated the computer network. The justice department acknowledges its tactic was out of its usual protocol but officials knew if they wanted to catch paedophiles in the act of viewing and downloading child pornography they had to keep the site online to carry out the sting.
'One of the darkest places on Earth'
"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," said Ron Hosko, a former senior FBI official who was involved. "There was no other way we could identify as many players."
A lawyer representing victims of child pornography expressed his surprise at the FBI's methods and how families agreed to the move. However, they also recognise the motive as he describes "these are places where people know exactly what they're getting when they arrive".
Playpen was believed to have more than 215,000 registered users and contained more than 23,000 sexually explicit images and videos including sickening categories labelled "toddlers" with more than 9,000 files that could be directly downloaded from the FBI.
Officials did not upload any illicit content themselves but they did not prevent anyone being able to access or stop any new content being uploaded, which stirs up controversy over their method as these images could have been further distributed to place away from government control.
This is not the first time the FBI has operated this type of tactic with cases in 2012 and 2013 where the US government again relocated the servers of a known child pornography site to their own and infecting it with malware to expose user computer data. In both stings the FBI was able to file charges against users.