FBI ran 23 child porn sites in sting operation

FBI ran 23 child porn sites in sting operation
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The FBI reportedly ran 23 child pornography websites to try to ensnare users, according to an affidavit from the agency acquired by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

It was previously reported that the FBI had seized and maintained the child pornography website Playpen to install malware on its users’ computers. The malware was intended to help law enforcement gain users' identities and apprehend them.

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But the new disclosures show that the FBI's sting was much broader than just the Playpen site.

The FBI had not revealed that it also operated the 23 other child porn websites until the new affidavit, first reported on by Ars Technica.

According to the documents, the websites were “dedicated to the advertisement of child pornography, the discussion of matters pertinent to child sexual abuse, including methods and tactics offenders used to abuse children, as well as methods and tactics offenders used to avoid law enforcement detection while perpetuating online child sexual exploitation crimes.”

"In the normal course of the operation of a web site, a user sends 'request data' to the web site in order to access that site. While Websites 1-23 operate at a government facility, such request data associated with a user's actions on Websites 1-23 will be collected," the affidavit read.

“That paragraph alone doesn't quite say the FBI is operating them,” Fred Jennings, a cybercrime lawyer, told Ars Technica.

“But definitely no other way to read that than websites 1-23 were hosted at a government facility, with the FBI's knowledge and to the FBI's informational benefit. It's clever phrasing on their part.”

The FBI has not yet returned The Hill’s request for comment.

The FBI acquired the warrant to distribute malware to collect data through Rule 41 — a Department of Justice anti-hacking measure that has been questioned by lawmakers. Changes to the rule allow the FBI to hack multiple computers in different jurisdictions with only a single warrant. Its' use has sparked concerns from privacy advocates.