Third Judge Rules FBI’s Playpen Warrant Invalid

In Iowa, Federal Judge Robert Pratt ordered the evidence resulting from an arrest in the FBI’s Playpen investigation be suppressed.

The warrant was issued in part of the FBI’s operation to hack Tor users. The FBI took control of a child pornography site, Playpen, for two weeks in order to unmask its users. Including Judge Pratt’s suppression, this is only the third case out of 200 that resulted from the operation.

As stated, 200 cases derived from the FBI’s single warrant, nationwide investigation into Tor, child porn site Playpen, and its users.

“Any search conducted pursuant to such warrant is the equivalent of a warrantless search,” Pratt wrote in the 19-page order in the case.

The charges against Beau Croghan have not been dropped, this rules, and the others like it, have blocked the government’s case in a big way. Earlier in the year, Massachusetts and Oklahoma judges ruled the same and tossed all relevant evidence.

On the other hand, 13 other federal judges ruled that the warrant was invalid, but didn’t order any of the evidence invalid. The other judges have yet to rule on the corresponding cases.

All of the cases, are the result of a Virginia Magistrate Judges warrant that the FBI used to deploy its NIT to investigate Tor user locations nationwide. Under current laws of federal jurisprudence, magistrate judges only have enough authority to issue warrants in their own jurisdiction. There are currently changes in the works for these rules however, which will almost certainly expand the government’s hacking power. Currently, only district judges have the authority to issue out-of-jurisdiction warrants, hence why judge Pratt ruled the warrant invalid from the start, and that all evidence resulting from the invalid warrant and investigation, must be suppressed.

“Here, by contrast, law enforcement caused an NIT to be deployed directly onto Defendants’ home computers, which then caused those computers to relay specific information stored on those computers to the Government without Defendants’ consent or knowledge,” Pratt’s order also stated.

“If the defendant writes his IP address on a piece of paper and places it in a drawer in his home, there would be no question that law enforcement would need a warrant to access that piece of paper, even accepting that the defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the IP address itself. Here, Defendants’ IP addresses were stored on their computers in their homes rather than a drawer,” he continued.

Fred Jennings is a New Your based lawyer who has a strong background in computer crime cases said:

“Pratt correctly points out that the usual analogies, to tracking devices or IP information turned over by a third-party service provider, are inapplicable to this type of government hacking. A common theme in digital privacy, with Fourth Amendment issues especially, is the difficulty of analogizing too apt precedent-there are nuances to digital communication that simply don’t trace back well to 20th-century precedent about physical intrusion or literal wiretapping.”

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