What happens when you’re winning battles but end up losing the war? I’m not sure. Perhaps somebody should ask the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI):
Rather than disclose the source code that the FBI used to target a child porn suspect, federal prosecutors in Tacoma, Washington recently dropped their appeal in United States v. Michaud.
The case is just one of 135 federal prosecutions nationwide involving the Tor-hidden child porn website Playpen. The vast effort to bust Playpen has raised significant questions about the ethics, oversight, capabilities, and limitations of the government’s ability to hack criminal suspects.
For those of you who haven’t been following this story, Playpen was a child pornography site hosted using a Tor hidden service. The FBI managed to identify the server the site was being hosted on and take over the job of hosting and improving the site. Why would the FBI host and make improvements to a child pornography site? The agency’s justification was that it was using the site to distribute malware that revealed the identity of individuals accessing the site. Using this tactic it managed to bring charges against 135 individuals.
However, the FBI has been unwilling to reveal the exploit it used to reveal the users’ identities. Its obsession with secrecy is so strong that it’s letting suspected child pornographers walk rather than reveal the exploit, i.e. the evidence, to their defense attorneys. The FBI won the battle to identify individuals who accessed the site but is losing the war.
The FBI’s unwillingness to follow through to prosecute these suspects raises a lot of questions. The most obvious one, I believe, is if the FBI was unwilling to prosecute these individuals, why did it use government funds to host and make improvements to a child pornography site? The fact that the agency even utilized that tactic raised significant moral questions but its failure to follow through just makes the act even more despicable. Another question I have is, why do people still look at the FBI has anything other than a criminal organization? Between manufacturing cases of terrorism and distributing child pornography the agency stands guilty of significant crimes.