Australia hacked Americans in child pornography probe

Australia hacked Americans in child pornography probe
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Australian law enforcement caught 30 Americans in a child pornography investigation using controversial techniques some liken to hacking.

The sting is raising controversial questions about jurisdiction in online investigations and the techniques used to catch the Americans involved.

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The role of Australian officials in bringing the matter to the attention of American law enforcement was first reported by Motherboard.

The probe came to light in court documents after one of the Americans pleaded guilty in the United States to accessing child pornography online.

Seth Piccolo pleaded guilty in late July and was later sentenced to five years in prison for accessing the Australian site “The Love Nest.”

The Love Nest was a site accessible from the Tor network’s anonymous browser. After Australian authorities seized control of the site, they uploaded a link to a video off-site that circumvented Tor’s privacy safeguards, which was then used to catch visitors to the website.

Many of those caught in the sting were from outside Australia. Australian officials reported 30 U.S.-based suspects to American authorities.

The case highlights two controversies over investigation techniques used to short circuit the Tor browser’s anonymity systems.

As online investigations pick up more steam, there are also complex questions about jurisdiction. In most circumstances, Australia would not have the ability to issue a warrant in the United States unless the government first granted permission.

Also, depending on the U.S. court, a user's IP address may or may not be protected when using Tor. Judges have been mixed over whether tricking computers into coughing up IP addresses is a violation of Fourth Amendment rights.