The Ethics of Catching Child Pornography Offenders

Last year, the FBI operated one of the largest child pornography websites on the internet for almost two weeks.

Yes, you read that right. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was running a child pornography site. The site gave users access to (and the ability to download) thousands of illegal pictures and videos. From a government website.

According to USA Today, under the FBI, Playpen – the child pornography site – had more than 23,000 links to images and videos of children engaging in sexually explicit behavior, including over 9,000 files that more than 215,000 registered users could directly download. From the FBI.

This isn’t the first time this has happened either. There have been at least two other instances in recent years where FBI agents have taken control of a child pornography site. Instead of taking the site down, they keep it running with the intent to catch users who hide themselves behind anonymous and encrypted computer networks.

The Justice Department recognizes that every time these explicit images and videos are viewed, the children who are being exploited are harmed and re-victimized. So this strategy for catching child pornography offenders goes against instructions that FBI agents shouldn’t let child pornography pictures become public.

What about the Victims?

Child pornography isn’t a victimless crime. The children depicted in the images and videos are often traumatically and permanently damaged from their experiences.

Peter Carr, the Justice Department’s spokesperson, recognizes that “the decision whether to simply shut down a website or allow it to continue operating for a brief period for a law enforcement purpose is a difficult one.” But every time an image is shared, the children relive that moment and continue to suffer in their daily lives.

His argument seems to be that it comes down to a question of which is more important: to catch the offenders or to protect the victims. But perhaps there’s another way. Maybe the government needs to reevaluate its strategy and see if there’s a better alternative than having to continually re-exploit victims.

Denver Child Pornography Defense Attorney

Is This Ethical?

In today’s world, we acknowledge the importance of catching child pornographers swiftly and en masse. But how can we condone this type of behavior from the FBI – or any public institution?

First of all, the FBI was told not to make the sexually explicit images and videos public. And they had even previously rejected operating child pornography sites to catch perpetrators. So what changed?

The FBI claims that they understood the serious risks involved in their operation, but without keeping the site live and accessible, they wouldn’t have any other way to identify who was going to the sites. They “had a window of opportunity to get into one of the darkest places on Earth” and seized it in order to catch numerous offenders.

Still, even some attorneys who represent victims of child pornography were surprised that the FBI engaged in these tactics. Is it right to, in effect, use kids who have already been victimized as bait? Or to go on a “fishing expedition” for offenders? Did the FBI only target those who downloaded the illegal material, or everyone who entered the site? What if some visitors didn’t realize where they were going until it was too late?

Being charged as a pedophile is an incredibly serious offense that can destroy lives. If you or someone you know has been caught up in a sweep like this or is otherwise facing charges or under investigation for child pornography or a related crime, contact an experienced Colorado child pornography attorney as soon as possible to start building the strongest defense possible.


About the Author:

Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.