The operation — whose details remain largely secret — was at least the third time in recent years that FBI agents took control of pornography site but left it online in an attempt to catch users who officials said would otherwise remain hidden behind an encrypted and anonymous computer network. In each case, the FBI infected the sites with software that punctured that security, allowing agents to identify hundreds of users. At the time, the site had more thanregistered users and included links to more than 23, sexually explicit images and videos of children, including more than 9, files that users could download directly from the FBI.
Some of the images described in court filings involved children barely old enough for kindergarten.
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Officials acknowledged those risks, but said they had no other way to identify the people accessing the sites. Lawyers for child pornography victims expressed surprise that the FBI would agree to such tactics — in part because agents had rejected them in the past — but nonetheless said they approved.
The FBI hacks have drawn repeated — though so far unsuccessful — legal challenges, largely centered on the search warrants agents obtained before agents cracked the computer network. But they have also prompted a backlash of a different kind. A federal judge is scheduled to hear arguments on that request Friday.
Federal agents first noticed Playpen not long after it went online in August, FBI agents tracked the site to computer servers in North Carolina, and in February seized the site and quietly moved it to its own facility in Newington, Va. The FBI kept Playpen online for 13 days. During that time, federal prosecutors told defense lawyers that the site included more than 23, sexually explicit images and videos of children.
Law enforcement has long complained that online services like Tor create a type of safe haven for criminals because they hide the unique network addresses from which people connect to sites on the internet. Justice officials said they were unable to discuss details of the investigation because much of it remains under seal, at their request. The Justice Department said in court filings that agents did not post any child pornography to the site themselves.
And the FBI has not said it had any ability to prevent users from circulating the material they downloaded onto other sites. Who decides that this is the best method of identifying these people? The FBI was first known to have operated porn site inwhen agents seized control of three sites from their operator in Nebraska.
That case led to federal child pornography charges against at least 25 people. The man prosecutors have accused of operating that site, Eric Marques, is due to be extradited to the United States; the charges against him remain sealed.
The FBI revealed its role in an Irish court hearing covered by local media. Those hacks, developed with the help of outside contractors, were a technical milestone. When the FBI first realized it could break through Tor, Hosko said the agency gathered counterterrorism investigators and intelligence agencies to see if any of them had a more pressing need for the software.
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Facebook Twitter. FBI ran website sharing thousands of child porn images.