FBI Denies Making Dark Web Child Porn Site Run Faster

A defense lawyer had claimed that the FBI improved the performance of a dark web child pornography site during their operations.

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Sep 2 2016, 12:45pm

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Last week, a defense lawyer argued that the FBI drastically improved the performance of a dark web child pornography site in the process of investigating it. On Thursday, the Department of Justice responded, denying those claims.

"The government played no role in enhancing or improving the functionality of the website," a court filing from the DOJ reads.

The website in question was called Playpen, which the FBI briefly took over in February 2015. Instead of shutting the site down, the agency kept it up and running, so as to deliver malware to visitors in an attempt to identify them.

The FBI also arrested Playpen's alleged administrator, Steven Chase from Florida. Chase's lawyer, Peter Adolf, claimed that the site had seen significant enhancements while under the FBI's control.

Read More: Lawyer Claims Dark Web Child Porn Site Ran Better When It Was Taken Over by the FBI

"The FBI distributed child pornography 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," he wrote in August in a motion to have his client's indictment dismissed. Adolf also claimed that, because of these enhancements, Playpen's membership grew by over 30 percent.

Adolf's argument relied on messages posted by Playpen users while the FBI controlled the site.

The DOJ flatly denies both that the FBI improved the site and that Playpen's popularity increased. It writes that the site was facing issues commonly found on the Tor network, and that the connectivity improved by itself.

"When the FBI first assumed administrative control of the Playpen website, it experienced connectivity issues for a few days. Such connectivity issues are typically of all Tor hidden services, and eventually resolved themselves," the DOJ writes.

Adolf is trying to have his client's case thrown out by arguing that the FBI engaged in "outrageous conduct" by operating Playpen. However,the DOJ explains that Chase was arrested before the FBI took control of the child pornography site. The DOJ also points out that other defendants, who were arrested following the FBI's operation of Playpen, have failed to convince judges with the same argument.

"To be sure, agents considered seizing Playpen and removing it from existence immediately," the DOJ writes. "Doing so might have ended child pornography trafficking on Playpen, but it would have come at a great cost: squandering any hope of identifying and apprehending the offenders responsible for engaging in hands-on exploitation as well as identifying and prosecuting those users."