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Dysart Willis

Federal prosecutors drop child porn charges

As regular readers of our Raleigh criminal defense blog know, we have written before in this space about the Playpen, a child porn site on the Tor network, and related arrests and legal issues. The site was apparently hosted about three hours east of Raleigh in Lenoir, North Carolina.

The FBI used sophisticated hacking tools to get IP addresses from some of the site's users. However, we read recently that federal prosecutors have dropped child porn charges against a Washington state man who used the site, apparently because the U.S. Justice Department refused to disclose a software flaw on the man's computer; a flaw exploited by the FBI in its hunt for people downloading child pornography.

Charges against the man were recently dropped in U.S. District Court in Seattle.

He had been accused of downloading child porn back in 2015 as part of the Playpen investigation. During the operation, the FBI apparently used hacking tools to invade the computers of anonymous Playpen visitors.

The FBI's software exposed users' locations; many were later served warrants that enabled the federal agency to search their homes, computers, digital devices, etc. According to a recent news article, 137 people were arrested.

The Washington state man's attorney argued in federal court that the man could not mount an effective defense if he was not given detailed information about the software flaw the FBI exploited in its initial operation. Government officials said that information about the software vulnerability itself is irrelevant.

The man's lawyer said his client has maintained his innocence throughout the process and is relieved to have charges finally dropped.

You can discuss your situation with an attorney experienced in both federal courts and child porn defenses.