On September 19, Acting United States Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow announced that a 41-year-old Jacksonville man had been found guilty of receiving images of child abuse from the darknet. The charge and subsequent guilty verdict connected to activity on Playpen, the notorious darknet “child pornography” forum.
According to court documents—none of which, notably, mentioned Playpen by name—the FBI identified the defendant after seizing a darknet child pornography forum in 2015. The suspect, 41-year-old Jason Dean Barnes, had access to the forum between February 23 and March 3. After determining that Barnes had accessed child pornography and accessed the forum itself, FBI agents and other law enforcement agencies executed a search warrant at Barnes’s home in Jacksonville, Florida.
During the (likely post-miranda) interview, Barnes explained that he had struggled with a “child pornography addiction” for several years. He admitted that, due to his addiction, he had accessed the darknet forum, searched for, shared, and downloaded illegal pictures and videos. A forensic sweep of his computer revealed that he had downloaded more than 500 illegal videos and 5,000 illegal images. Some of the content, court documents revealed, Barnes had viewed on the same day that he watched a federal search warrant unfold.
According to those court documents, the FBI, as part of Project Safe Childhood, identified a child pornography site at some point in 2014. At the time, little could be done in the way of shutting the site down. In 2015, the FBI had taken over the site and seized the site’s servers.
“FBI agents began an online undercover investigation to identify individuals who were using a particular anonymizing website on the ‘dark web’ to access and receive images and videos depicting child pornography,” the documents explained. “In February 2015, FBI agents apprehended the administrator of this website and seized it from its web-hosting facility.”
The FBI’s Operation Pacifier fits the timeline of Barnes’s case. On February 19, the FBI arrested Steven W. Chase, the owner of a massive child pornography forum hidden on the darknet.
On February 20, after obtaining a controversial and “illegal” warrant, the FBI took control of the forum in an effort to identify members. Despite illegally hacking thousands of innocent victims, the FBI’s hack “successfully” identified 200-300 users. (Fewer arrests and far fewer convictions, though).
From February 20 until March 4, the FBI controlled the forum. Barnes’s child pornography charges came from his activity on a darknet forum on February 23 and ending on March 3.
After the bench trial where to the court found Barnes guilty of receiving child pornography, the case entered the sentencing stage. He will spend a minimum of five years in a federal prison. The maximum is 20 years. His sentencing date has been scheduled for December 18.