Was the FBI Going Against Department of Justice Policy by Keeping Playpen Running?

Last year when the FBI took control of one of the biggest child pornography sites known to the dark net as Playpen, they didn’t shut it down right away. Instead the FBI kept it running for an additional two weeks in order to deploy its NIT; which led to the unmasking of over 4000 computers.

A recent declaration filed by an agent who worked on the Playpen case stated that before the investigation took place, the FBI immediately shut down a section of the website devoted to helping child porn producers make, and release new media.

“The Producer’s Pen was a section of the Playpen site that encouraged members to produce and share new child pornography,” the declaration by FBI Special Agent Daniel Alfin stated. “The Producer’s Pen was closed immediately after the FBI seized control of Playpen.”

Colin Fieman, who is currently working on several Playpen related cases, brought this issue to light. Fieman stated that his mission thus far is to find out exactly what happened from the time the FBI took control of Playpen, to the time the shut it down. Fieman’s investigation comes after another attorney accused the FBI of making Playpen run better, and that keeping it up and running was actually not in accordance with the Department of Justice’s own policies.

Fieman has been arguing that in one post made by the FBI on the Playpen sight may have suggested that the Producer’s Pen would be back online shortly. Special Agent Alfin said this was just a falsehood to sway the case in Fieman’s favor.

“Postings made by the undercover FBI Agent indicating that the section would eventually return were intended to keep users from discovering the law enforcement takeover. At no point in time was the Producer’s Pen brought back online,” Alfin’s declaration continued.

The whole reason for the takeover was so the FBI could launch their NIT, or Network Investigative Technique. This NIT helped the FBI unmask several thousand users of the Playpen site, by injecting a type of malware that modified the flash player inside of the Tor Browser. The NIT supplied the FBI with IP addresses, and technical information regarding user’s computers.

After the FBI collected this data, they sent subpoenas to Internet Service Providers to make them hand over subscription records. From there, the FBI received warrants to search each suspects residence.

During its investigation, the FBI has filed charges against 180 people inside the United States, with at least 35 “hands-on” offenders, and 17 actual child porn producers.

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