The FBI is trying a new tactic to capture pedophiles. They are posting links to illegal media on internet message boards, and then arresting anyone who visits those websites; cnet has the story.
As expected, the FBI’s new tactics follow the Bush administration’s policy of being incompetent and attacking our freedoms at the same time. How so?
First let me describe the trap. An agent went to a message board where suspected trafficking in illegal media was occurring. The agent then made a disgusting post describing a video and then posted links to said video on the board. These links then went to some files on the FBI’s machines, which contained random noise. However, the FBI recorded everyone who visited their machines and got search and/or arrest warrants for any visitors from the US.
Sounds like great police work, right? Wrong.
The FBI neglected to record important information in their servers that is necessary to prove intent to download illegal media: how visitors got to their site. Without this information the FBI is unable to prove that a suspect visited their honeypot via the agent’s disgusting board post. Instead someone could have received an email that read “hey look at this FBI honeypot” and then followed the link from there. (I understand that would be rather odd at this juncture, but it’ll happen if this program expands.)
An insidious possibility is that a malicious user, who knows about the honeypot links, could create redirect links to the honeypot and bait people to click them, via say a tiny url posted in the comments of a blog. When the person clicked such a link, there would be no way for them to tell that the link went to the FBI’s fake illegal media.
A more insidious possibility is that someone could use various web technologies, like image, script, or css tags to make someone’s browser access the link without them clicking on it, and they’d have no idea that their computer visited the FBI’s honey pot until the 7am raid.
This doesn’t even begin to address the problem of connecting an IP to an individual. One simply can’t prove, without good evidence, that the person who owns the internet account was the one using it at the time the download occurred. Not only could someone else have access to their computer, but if they have a wireless network, someone could have hacked into their home network and piggybacked their network.
However, the FBI, juries, and courts don’t care or appreciate all these issues. Instead, they believe that anyone and everyone who accessed their website was there to download illegal media and that the person whose name is on the internet bill was the one who did it. This is unsound logic, and contains inherent reasonable doubt about the guilt of the accused. There are major implications for our freedoms if the government can send people links to “illegal” material and then throw anyone in jail whose IP address accessed those site. Spam would then become Big Brother’s biggest asset.
Having said all that, I will point out that this FBI tactic can be effective if used sparingly and smartly. (I know—I know.) For starters, the FBI needs to keep detailed records of the activity on their honey pots, including from where they were accessed. That way they will have evidence that someone clicked the link as the FBI intended: from an illegal media site. Furthermore, the FBI needs to use their honeypots as probable cause to get search warrants and wiretaps, which can reveal hard evidence of trafficking in illegal media. That way they don’t have to prosecute people for crimes that can’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. I hope that they are already working towards this. Perhaps the only reason the person in the article above was charged with an attempt to download illegal material is that the FBI didn’t find anything against him at his house. Maybe, but it is doubtful.