Man Who Ran Dark Web Child Porn Site Sent to 30 Years in Prison

Playpen, an illegally operated website that distributed child pornography in different parts of the world, had its founder sentenced to 30 years of imprisonment after the FBI identified who he was. Almost 900 members of a global ‘dark web’ pedophile ring in the United States and Europe have been arrested after a two-year investigation.

What exactly is Playpen

The playpen was a Dark Web website which distributed a number of pictures showing children being sexually abused. These children were reported to be of only kindergarten age. The website had almost 250,000 visitors worldwide.

Related: Child Pornography Case: 73-year old Pedophile gets 300 years sentence

According to the FBI, the website had been tracked by the FBI when it first appeared, but the exact location of it was unknown. This is because the website was being operated in a way so that it could only be accessed through Tor browser.

Tor, like a VPN, but more robust, allows a user to remain anonymous on the web and hence use the internet to protect their privacy and in Playpen’s case to perform all sorts of illegal acts. Nevertheless, the founder of the website accidentally revealed his identity and therefore allowed the FBI to track down his IP address.

The culprits

The main culprit behind the website was Steven W. Chase, a 58-year-old man who created the website sometime in August 2014 and was based in Naples, Florida. After being identified, he was sentenced to 30 years of imprisonment. Special Agent Dan Alfin who investigated the case said that: 

  • “From that point, we took normal investigative steps—seized a copy of the website, served search warrants for e-mail accounts, followed the money—and everything led back to Steven Chase.”

Two of his accomplices, Michael Fluckiger and David Lynn Browning who served as Playpen’s co-administrator and global moderator respectively, were also sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment after they were found guilty in December 2015.

Source: FBI

Operation Pacifier

You might probably be wondering as to where is all the controversy in all this. Well, the real problem began when the FBI was known to have been performing a court-approved investigation in which it was allowed to operate the website for up two weeks after the founder was arrested. Nevertheless, as you may already know, the investigation was done for the purposes of identifying all those involved who were visiting the website.

Although this is an innocent purpose in its own right and the FBI did manage to find out and rescue the child victims who were being abused, the problem, however, lied in the way the FBI carried out the investigation.

According to reports, the FBI launched Operation Pacifier in which it injected malware into the systems of more than 8,000 users in an attempt to hack their computers and see whether they were regular visitors of the website.

Related: Police Dogs Trained To Sniff Out Hard Drives Coming For Pedophiles

As such, digital private activists condemned this method as being something that breached privacy laws. On the other hand, the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) seemed to praise the method by saying the FBI will not be able to tackle the issue at the highest level if it were to stick to the 19th-century laws.

Whether it was the right thing to do remains controversial. However, the main issue here is probably the fact that child abuse is on the rise and that there might be several other websites that might be doing this ever so covertly.

It is essential that proper measures are in place to deal with such situations in the future.

Source: FBI, Arrests in Europe: Europol


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Jahanzaib Hassan