Between February 20, 2015 & March 4, 2015, the FBI operated one of the largest child pornography websites, known as Playpen, allowing thousands of users to download graphic child pornography. At the time, the site had more than 215,000 registered users and links to more than 23,000 sexually explicit images and videos. More than 100,000 Playpen users visited the site while it was under the FBI’s control allowing the Bureau to locate IP addresses for more than 1,300 users, leading to 137 arrests.
This is a sea change in DOJ policy. Until recently, agents were not allowed to circulate images of children being sexually assaulted. The reason was the DOJ maintained that children depicted are harmed each time they are viewed, and once those images leave the government’s control, agents have no way to prevent them from being copied and re-copied to other parts of the internet. That policy was jettisoned because now the priority is identifying people accessing the websites—without putting bait in the water, this goal simply can’t be recognized. Ah, Niccolo Machiavelli is alive and well!
One of the defendants who was arrested sought dismissal of the charge and analogized the FBI behavior to “flooding a neighborhood with heroin in the hope of snatching an assortment of low-level drug users.” Arguments on this motion will be heard later this week.