The Internet at the Speed of Thought

FBI Traps Ring of Dark Web Pedophiles, but at What Cost?

at 6:26 pm | By

Think of the most foul thing you’ve ever seen on the internet. This is worse.

The dark web has become everyone’s favorite repository for slime. It’s a network that exists right under the surface of the internet you use every day, but where people sell drugs and guns to anyone anywhere with enough bitcoins. Offers to hack, steal, or, allegedly, kill abound for the right price. Perhaps one of the most disgusting things that scuttles under the carpet of the dark web is child pornography.

Last February, the FBI busted a Florida man for running one of the largest child pornography sites on the web. Reportedly, a foreign law enforcement agency tipped off the FBI about Steven W. Chase, 57, who managed the child porn site Playpen. He was arrested and taken into custody. But now a judge has ruled the FBI’s warrant invalid.

Computer Hackers Meet For Annual Congress

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Should the FBI have unfettered power to hack the dark web?

Advanced Technologies

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The Department of Justice released a statement last Friday, September 16, stating, “Forensic examination of a computer and devices seized pursuant to the search revealed that [Steven W. Chase] was in possession of thousands of images depicting the sexual abuse of children as young as toddlers.” Chase managed a site, where (the FBI reports) 150,000 members authored and viewed tens of thousands of postings involving child pornography, categorized by age, gender, and type of sexual activity.

Chase, like many wheeling and dealing on the dark web, used Tor networks to elude governmental oversight, in what the FBI called “advanced technological” and “highly-sophisticated” tech. Really, anyone with an internet connection can download a Tor browser, which will route their traffic through a series of relays around the world, concealing what is being shared, viewed, and sold. In large part, this is the soul of the dark web: anonymity. But, like any secret, there are ways of teasing it out.

40,000 New Users

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But did the FBI shut the site down when they caught Chase and took possession of his computer? No. They kept the site up, and they began to grow it. In a motion released by Chase’s lawyers, the FBI uploaded “approximately 200 videos, 9,000 images and 13,000 links” to child porn when controlling the site between February 19 and March 4, 2015. At least 40,000 new users viewed the content that the FBI had posted.

The FBI was attempting to entrap users viewing child porn, but do the ends justify the means? Unambiguously, the FBI was distributing child porn. For those two weeks in February, the Bureau regularly held meetings to discuss whether the site should continue to be maintained and grown. Of the 40,000 new users given access to and possession of child porn, 100 arrests were made in the United States.