FBI seized child porn website with 215,000 users: court filing

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A Federal Bureau of Investigation search warrant has provided a rare glimpse into the increasingly complex efforts of U.S. law enforcement to combat child pornography online, leading to the seizure this year of a website with nearly 215,000 users.

The search warrant, unsealed on Monday in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, showed that the FBI seized the website's North Carolina server on Feb. 20 but allowed it to remain operating for about two weeks while authorities investigated its users.

According the search warrant describing the website's activities, it operated on a network designed to facilitate anonymous communication over the Internet that protected users' privacy.

The website, which began operating around August 2014, contained thousands of postings and messages featuring child pornography images and had 214,898 members, the warrant said.

Before shutting down "Website A," as court documents call it, on March 4, the FBI obtained a search warrant from a judge in Virginia that authorized it to use a technique that would cause a computer to send it data anytime a user logged on.

The FBI cited the data obtained during the probe of Website A in seeking a search warrant in June for a Brooklyn apartment where a man resided with the same IP address as one of the website's users.

The Brooklyn man has not been charged. An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment, saying the agency does not discuss "ongoing investigations."

The probe follows an earlier FBI investigation based out of Nebraska that resulted in the seizure of three child pornography online websites in 2012, two of which listed 5,600 and 8,100 members, respectively.

Those websites, according to court documents, operated on the Tor network, which allows users to communicate anonymously.

The Tor service has enabled dissidents living under repressive regimes a means of safely communicating but has also made it easier for criminals to avoid detection.

Called "Operation Torpedo," the Nebraska investigation resulted in charges against 28 people including the websites' administrator, Aaron McGrath, who was sentenced in 2014 to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Richard Chang)

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