Furthermore, the numbers are contested. The FBI asserts that 150,000 users were using the site, while Chase’s representation contests that there were 11,000. While thousands of people downloading child porn by any calculation is beyond foul, if Chase is telling the truth, that would mean that the FBI grew the site almost four times over: from 11,000 to 50,000 users. Was it worth distributing child porn to 40,000 people to make 100 arrests?
And, the warrant the FBI used to track down these users is now being contested. A federal judge has ordered that the evidence obtained by the FBI be suppressed because their warrant was invalid. That means that none of evidence the FBI obtained while growing the child pornography site can be used. Two other US district judges confirmed that such warrants to hack Tor users are illegal.
So what happens now?
Wild, Wild West
Chase’s Playpen is not the only child pornography site to be affected by such a ruling. There are nearly 200 like cases nationwide that involve Tor-hidden child porn sites that have been hacked by the government using similar warrants. One judge stated, “Any search conducted pursuant to such warrant is the equivalent of a warrantless search.” The warrant allowed the government to use a “network investigative technique,” or NIT, to locate users of the site. The above-quoted judge ruled that the warrant was invalid ab initio, from the beginning, and any evidence acquired is thus inadmissible.
“There is a significant difference between obtaining an IP address from a third party and obtaining it directly from a defendant’s computer,” the judge argues. Legislation of cyber privacy is a relatively new arena. Precedents are being set, and access to personal digital information is still being delineated. President Obama has stated that the US government’s cyber capacities are not meant to duplicate escalations that we have seen in other arms races in the past. But crimes like these seem unconscionable no matter the means.
Should the government have unfettered rights to hack suspected child pornographers? Or should personal digital information have protections from the government’s gaze? Let is know in the comments and SHARE this article.