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FBI’s Use of Playpen Child Pornography Website May Be Unconstitutional

FBI’s Use of “Playpen” Child Pornography Website May Be Unconstitutional

The dark net has become a serious issue in terms of cyber crime. Not only has it given access to easy purchase of illegal and banned goods, but it also gives access to the websites that shouldn’t be online in the first place. Bringing down the dark net has now become an obsession for the law enforcement agencies.

Child pornography is one of the major crimes being nourished by the dark net. To help combat this growing problem, the FBI used an unusual Network Investigative Technique (NIT).

For several days in 2015, FBI operated a child pornography site known as the Playpen to identify the culprits. The site could only be accessed through the dark net. Watching porn is not really a crime if you are above 18, but watching child porn is a crime no matter what age you are or what you do. For every child that you watch a felony will be registered for each one of them.

The method used by the FBI was very simple. As soon as the person gets on the site, his or her computer was infected with a malware that would help the agency to detect and identify the internet protocol (IP) address and other identification details of the user. With this procedure the FBI was able to arrest over a hundred people. The charges placed were according to the information obtained and as per the law stated.

This Network Investigative Technique (NIT) surely proved to be successful, but the question is, was it the right way?

The FBI deliberately let people access the child porn and allowed them to use and redistribute the content of the site as they desired. The technique may be useful, but many arguments can be raised against the process with respect to the constitution.

According to the fourth amendment, the investigation or the search must be for a specific individual or a crime, for the method to continue. In this case the FBI used a malware that would instantly affect the user’s computer who clicks on the site link, whether he or she did it deliberately or just by accident.

This procedure can be called as a breach of privacy, which is against the fourth amendment. The FBI cannot confine a person unless they have legitimate reasons to believe that the person has committed a crime or is a threat to the public security.

In order to carry out a Network Investigative Technique (NIT), the FBI needs a magistrate to sign the warrant and authorize the technique. In this case the magistrate who signed the warrant and authorized the act exceeded the limits of the jurisdiction. According to the rule 41 Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and the Federal Magistrates Act, the magistrate cannot authorize such procedures.


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