Instead of shutting down dark web child porn site Playpen, in February of 2015 the FBI decided to maintain the website in order to deliver malware to the site visitors, hoping to identify any suspects in the investigation.
According to court documents, the FBI took control of the site following the arrest of Steven Chase, the man accused of running the website who was indicted on charges of "advertising, distributing and possessing child pornography, with respective statutory ranges of imprisonment of 15 to 30 years, 5 to 20 years, and 0 to 20 years."
The data was moved from commercial servers and placed under operations of FBI-controlled servers.
Steven Chase's defense attorney Peter Adolf writes in the docket:
"From there the FBI distributed child pornagraphy to viewers and downloaders worldwide for nearly two weeks, until at least March 4, 2015, even working to improve the performance of the website beyond its original capability. As a result, the number of visitors of Playpen while it under Government control went from an average 11,000 weekly visitors to approximately 50,000 per week."
Within the two-week operation memberships increased by 30%, with also the addition of 200 videos, 9,000 images and 13,000 links containing child pornography to the website.
"The government stood behind its decision to run the website, arguing that doing so was the only way to deploy a piece of software needed for identifying the IP addresses of the site's users."
The defense also argued that numerous times, throughout the history of the defense against child pornography, in mission statements and elsewhere that the FBI stated that victims of child pornography are "revictimized" each time their image is viewed.
"Despite these frequent pronouncements, the government here made no attempt during the two weeks it was running the site to reduce the harm to innocent third party victims by limiting the ability for users to view or access the images."
Now, Adolf is requesting that his client's indictment be thrown out as the FBI engaged in "outrageous conduct" in the online sting operation.
Court documents also show that as many as 1,000,000 illegal images and videos were distributed by the FBI. So far, 186 people have been charged in the investigation, according to the Department of Justice.
Photo: Getty Images