FBI admits it ran child porn website for weeks in bait attempt

25 Jan 201620 Shares

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In a move that has not gone down well with the American public, the FBI has revealed that, for a period in 2015, it operated a child porn site with the aim of baiting offenders.

These new revelations about the FBI’s operations have come following the release of court documents pertaining to the still largely secret operation whereby it operated the site – one of the largest online – for two weeks between February and March 2015.

According to USA Today, which broke the news, the operation followed a major cyberattack orchestrated by the FBI against the operators of the website, which allowed it to effectively take control of it, while being able to monitor who was visiting the website.

To those accessing it, it wouldn’t have appeared that anything was the matter, meaning the FBI in its bid to catch offenders in the act allowed thousands of sexually explicit images of children to be shared, including 9,000 files that could be downloaded directly from the site while it was under the FBI’s control.

Marking the third such attempt the FBI has undertaken to obtain details from offenders, the US Justice Department and lawyers representing the victims of child abuse have condemned the approach, particularly given that it goes against the American government’s standpoint that no operation should allow for these images to be spread.

During the two-week period, there was no way of preventing the nearly 250,000 users registered with the site obtaining, copying and sharing the images, but the FBI says it couldn’t have acted any differently.

‘We had a window of opportunity’

A senior official within the FBI, Ron Hosko, said of the investigation: “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. There was no other way we could identify as many players.”

It is understood that the FBI saw 100,000 users of the website visit during the two-week period the FBI operated the website, but of this number only 1,300 of them could be traced and the operation has led to the arrest of 137 individuals.

Describing the ethical dilemma of a governmental organisation facilitating the spreading of child abuse images online, a spokesperson for the US Justice Department, Peter Carr, said: “The government always considers seizing an illegal child pornography site and removing it from existence immediately and permanently.

“While doing so would end the trafficking of child pornography taking place on that one website, it would do nothing to prevent those same users from disseminating child pornography through other means.”

FBI sign image via Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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