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Click FBI's bogus link, and get a pre-dawn raid

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Click FBI's bogus link, and get a pre-dawn raid

Old 03-23-08, 10:08 AM
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Click FBI's bogus link, and get a pre-dawn raid

One of the techniques the FBI is now using to snare child porn suspects involves the posting of a link by an agent on a message board which supposedly contains illegal content (the link is actually bogus and doesn't link to anything) , then getting warrants to conduct raids of those registered to the IP addresses that clicked the link. No downloading takes place, since there isn't any illegal content accessed through the link.

Couldn't the FBI also use this same tactic for other crimes (i.e. posting bogus links to illegal drugs or weapons, etc), and arrest the "clickers?"

In the case below, it wouldn't have mattered if the link was sent in an email, if the link was found on the message board, or elsewhere-- once it was clicked and they recorded the offending IP address, they had enough cause to conduct their raid.



Link

March 20, 2008 4:00 AM PDT FBI posts fake hyperlinks to snare child porn suspects
Posted by Declan McCullagh

The FBI has recently adopted a novel investigative technique: posting hyperlinks that purport to be illegal videos of minors having sex, and then raiding the homes of anyone willing to click on them.

Undercover FBI agents used this hyperlink-enticement technique, which directed Internet users to a clandestine government server, to stage armed raids of homes in Pennsylvania, New York, and Nevada last year. The supposed video files actually were gibberish and contained no illegal images.

A CNET News.com review of legal documents shows that courts have approved of this technique, even though it raises questions about entrapment, the problems of identifying who's using an open wireless connection--and whether anyone who clicks on a FBI link that contains no child pornography should be automatically subject to a dawn raid by federal police.

Roderick Vosburgh, a doctoral student at Temple University who also taught history at La Salle University, was raided at home in February 2007 after he allegedly clicked on the FBI's hyperlink. Federal agents knocked on the door around 7 a.m., falsely claiming they wanted to talk to Vosburgh about his car. Once he opened the door, they threw him to the ground outside his house and handcuffed him.

Vosburgh was charged with violating federal law, which criminalizes "attempts" to download child pornography with up to 10 years in prison. Last November, a jury found Vosburgh guilty on that count, and a sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 22, at which point Vosburgh could face three to four years in prison.

The implications of the FBI's hyperlink-enticement technique are sweeping. Using the same logic and legal arguments, federal agents could send unsolicited e-mail messages to millions of Americans advertising illegal narcotics or child pornography--and raid people who click on the links embedded in the spam messages. The bureau could register the "unlawfulimages.com" domain name and prosecute intentional visitors. And so on.

"The evidence was insufficient for a reasonable jury to find that Mr. Vosburgh specifically intended to download child pornography, a necessary element of any 'attempt' offense," Vosburgh's attorney, Anna Durbin of Ardmore, Penn., wrote in a court filing that is attempting to overturn the jury verdict before her client is sentenced.

In a telephone conversation on Wednesday, Durbin added: "I thought it was scary that they could do this. This whole idea that the FBI can put a honeypot out there to attract people is kind of sad. It seems to me that they've brought a lot of cases without having to stoop to this."

Durbin did not want to be interviewed more extensively about the case because it is still pending; she's waiting for U.S. District Judge Timothy Savage to rule on her motion. Unless he agrees with her and overturns the jury verdict, Vosburgh--who has no prior criminal record--will be required to register as a sex offender for 15 years and will be effectively barred from continuing his work as a college instructor after his prison sentence ends.

How the hyperlink sting operation worked
The government's hyperlink sting operation worked like this: FBI Special Agent Wade Luders disseminated links to the supposedly illicit porn on an online discussion forum
called Ranchi, which Luders believed was frequented by people who traded underage images. One server allegedly associated with the Ranchi forum was rangate.da.ru, which is now offline with a message attributing the closure to "non-ethical" activity.

In October 2006, Luders posted a number of links purporting to point to videos of child pornography, and then followed up with a second, supposedly correct link 40 minutes later. All the links pointed to, according to a bureau affidavit, a "covert FBI computer in San Jose, California, and the file located therein was encrypted and non-pornographic."

Some of the links, including the supposedly correct one, included the hostname uploader.sytes.net. Sytes.net is hosted by no-ip.com, which provides dynamic domain name service to customers for $15 a year.

When anyone visited the upload.sytes.net site, the FBI recorded the Internet Protocol address of the remote computer. There's no evidence the referring site was recorded as well, meaning the FBI couldn't tell if the visitor found the links through Ranchi or another source such as an e-mail message.

With the logs revealing those allegedly incriminating IP addresses in hand, the FBI sent administrative subpoenas to the relevant Internet service provider to learn the identity of the person whose name was on the account--and then obtained search warrants for dawn raids.

The search warrants authorized FBI agents to seize and remove any "computer-related" equipment, utility bills, telephone bills, any "addressed correspondence" sent through the U.S. mail, video gear, camera equipment, checkbooks, bank statements, and credit card statements.

While it might seem that merely clicking on a link wouldn't be enough to justify a search warrant, courts have ruled otherwise. On March 6, U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt in Nevada agreed with a magistrate judge that the hyperlink-sting operation constituted sufficient probable cause to justify giving the FBI its search warrant.

The defendant in that case, Travis Carter, suggested that any of the neighbors could be using his wireless network. (The public defender's office even sent out an investigator who confirmed that dozens of homes were within Wi-Fi range.)

But the magistrate judge ruled that even the possibilities of spoofing or other users of an open Wi-Fi connection "would not have negated a substantial basis for concluding that there was probable cause to believe that evidence of child pornography would be found on the premises to be searched." Translated, that means the search warrant was valid.

Entrapment: Not a defense
So far, at least, attorneys defending the hyperlink-sting cases do not appear to have raised unlawful entrapment as a defense.


"Claims of entrapment have been made in similar cases, but usually do not get very far," said Stephen Saltzburg, a professor at George Washington University's law school. "The individuals who chose to log into the FBI sites appear to have had no pressure put upon them by the government...It is doubtful that the individuals could claim the government made them do something they weren't predisposed to doing or that the government overreached."

The outcome may be different, Saltzburg said, if the FBI had tried to encourage people to click on the link by including misleading statements suggesting the videos were legal or approved.

In the case of Vosburgh, the college instructor who lived in Media, Penn., his attorney has been left to argue that "no reasonable jury could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Vosburgh himself attempted to download child pornography."

Vosburgh faced four charges: clicking on an illegal hyperlink; knowingly destroying a hard drive and a thumb drive by physically damaging them when the FBI agents were outside his home; obstructing an FBI investigation by destroying the devices; and possessing a hard drive with two grainy thumbnail images of naked female minors (the youths weren't having sex, but their genitalia were visible).

The judge threw out the third count and the jury found him not guilty of the second. But Vosburgh was convicted of the first and last counts, which included clicking on the FBI's illicit hyperlink.

In a legal brief filed on March 6, his attorney argued that the two thumbnails were in a hidden "thumbs.db" file automatically created by the Windows operating system. The brief said that there was no evidence that Vosburgh ever viewed the full-size images--which were not found on his hard drive--and the thumbnails could have been created by receiving an e-mail message, copying files, or innocently visiting a Web page.

From the FBI's perspective, clicking on the illicit hyperlink and having a thumbs.db file with illicit images are both serious crimes. Federal prosecutors wrote: "The jury found that defendant knew exactly what he was trying to obtain when he downloaded the hyperlinks on Agent Luder's Ranchi post. At trial, defendant suggested unrealistic, unlikely explanations as to how his computer was linked to the post. The jury saw through the smokes (sic) and mirrors, as should the court."

And, as for the two thumbnail images, prosecutors argued (note that under federal child pornography law, the definition of "sexually explicit conduct" does not require that sex acts take place):

The first image depicted a pre-pubescent girl, fully naked, standing on one leg while the other leg was fully extended leaning on a desk, exposing her genitalia... The other image depicted four pre-pubescent fully naked girls sitting on a couch, with their legs spread apart, exposing their genitalia. Viewing this image, the jury could reasonably conclude that the four girls were posed in unnatural positions and the focal point of this picture was on their genitalia.... And, based on all this evidence, the jury found that the images were of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct, and certainly did not require a crystal clear resolution that defendant now claims was necessary, yet lacking.

Prosecutors also highlighted the fact that Vosburgh visited the "loli-chan" site, which has in the past featured a teenage Webcam girl holding up provocative signs (but without any nudity).

Civil libertarians warn that anyone who clicks on a hyperlink advertising something illegal--perhaps found while Web browsing or received through e-mail--could face the same fate.

When asked what would stop the FBI from expanding its hyperlink sting operation, Harvey Silverglate, a longtime criminal defense lawyer in Cambridge, Mass. and author of a forthcoming book on the Justice Department, replied: "Because the courts have been so narrow in their definition of 'entrapment,' and so expansive in their definition of 'probable cause,' there is nothing to stop the Feds from acting as you posit."

Last edited by Dave7393; 03-23-08 at 10:26 AM.
Old 03-23-08, 10:19 AM
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I clicked the link at the top of the post, but it didn't take me anywhere. Must be broken. Huh.

Oh, hold on -- there's a knock on my door...
Old 03-23-08, 10:26 AM
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Originally Posted by Dave7393
One of the techniques the FBI is now using to snare child porn suspects involves the posting of a link by an agent on a message board which supposedly contains illegal content (the link is actually bogus and doesn't link to anything) , then getting warrants to conduct raids of those registered to the IP addresses that clicked the link. No downloading takes place, since there isn't any illegal content accessed through the link.

Couldn't the FBI also use this same tactic for other crimes (i.e. posting bogus links to illegal drugs or weapons, etc), and arrest the "clickers?"
No. If the link had been legitimate, the clicker would've gotten child porn, which is illegal. Unless International Cocaine Importers, Inc. has set up an online store, you can't get drugs by clicking a link.
Old 03-23-08, 10:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Sean O'Hara
No. If the link had been legitimate, the clicker would've gotten child porn, which is illegal. Unless International Cocaine Importers, Inc. has set up an online store, you can't get drugs by clicking a link.
True, but I was thinking that it could be used in some way to "prove" that someone attempted to commit a crime (instead of having the actual "click" be the crime itself).
Old 03-23-08, 10:51 AM
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What if someone posted that link and said 'click here for pics of tyra banks' or something? in the same way people will post normal looking links here and it will take them to an animated gif of a scary face.
Old 03-23-08, 11:09 AM
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Would be interesting if someone sent email links to porn sites to FBI employees...and raids were conducted on local FBI offices.

Wouldn't surprise me if it took a few minutes after the raid, before they figured out where they were.
Old 03-23-08, 11:13 AM
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The legal system is set up to punish individuals for crimes they commit makes it somewhat difficult to punish individuals who intend to commit a crime. There are notable exceptions in the federal legal code (possession with the intent to distrubute, conspiracy, etc), but the burden of proof increases on "intent" crimes.

That being said, if the clicking of the link was only used in a grand jury proceeding as evidence to get a warrant, I would have no issue with it. The prosecution for "clicking an illegal hyperlink" sounds a bit absurd, and I don't think it would stand up Circuit Court review.
Old 03-23-08, 11:13 AM
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found this on a separate forum:

A lot of people are going to be fucked if others (4chan) figure out the links and start posting them everywhere.

"Check out this video about monkeys: [video]"
"Oh that looks sweet. Wait. Oh shit."
*paranoia for several hours*
*feds and ruined life*
Old 03-23-08, 11:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Sean O'Hara
No. If the link had been legitimate, the clicker would've gotten child porn, which is illegal. Unless International Cocaine Importers, Inc. has set up an online store, you can't get drugs by clicking a link.
i follow your point...

but you can get drugs of every type over the internet...

lots of people do... happens every day...
Old 03-23-08, 12:15 PM
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But this is stupid. I would click a link like that to see if it really was child porn, so that I could report it.

Dufuses.
Old 03-23-08, 12:23 PM
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Ah, just as I thought, the Agitator had this story. The page naturally points to an insightful discussion at the Volokh Conspiracy site.

This is what was said there:
Did the government's affidavit create probable cause? I would need to look at the entire affidavit to know for sure, but just based on these basic facts I would think the case for probable cause is likely to be pretty good. I assume the FBI did not in any way broadcast their IP address or host anything on that computer, and that the link came in soon after the message was posted, so it seems likely that the only incoming web traffic request would be from a link other than from the message board. And given the context, this seems like an unlikely link that someone might come across by accident. To be sure, it's possible to imagine scenarios involving innocent links or some other break in the connection between the home and the possible evidence (unsecured wireless connections, for example), but my sense is that this would still likely create probable cause (again, a call hard to make without seeing the whole affidavit, just something that is likely).

Nor is there a case for entrapment at trial on these facts. For a defendant to have an entrapment defense, the government needs to pressure him to commit the crime in some way. Here there was no significant pressure; the government created and advertised the opportunity but did not excessively push the defendant to click on the link.

Does this mean that the government could send you spam with apparent links to child pornography, and that if you clicked on the link the government could raid your home? No, I don't think so. In the case of spam in an inbox, a person might click on a link by mistake or out of curiosity as to what the file may be without actually knowing or expecting it to be child porn. That seems significantly less likely in the case of a link on a message board such as the one in this case. Second, a spam e-mail is unlikely to be as clearly labeled as the image in this case. What tends to make the case for probable cause in the case Declan described is the likelihood in context that a person who clicked on the link was actually looking for images of child pornography. If you change the context, you change the strength of the case for probable cause.
Just quoting the partial post here since some details are too graphic.
Old 03-23-08, 02:07 PM
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So this is the police state we find ourselves living in...?

I only hope that as these fascists are conducting their raids, a citizen will excercise their right to defend themself and their home and blow some of them away. I would have absolutely no sympathy for them.
Old 03-23-08, 02:28 PM
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Originally Posted by CreamyGoodness
I only hope that as these fascists are conducting their raids, a citizen will excercise their right to defend themself and their home and blow some of them away. I would have absolutely no sympathy for them.
So, if the police come to your house, identify themselves as police, it's okay to start shooting them?

Good luck with that.
Old 03-23-08, 03:29 PM
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Originally Posted by CreamyGoodness
So this is the police state we find ourselves living in...?
People like to posture about how much they hate pedo's. They're safe targets, as noone can really defend what they're doing.

Now if the RIAA had posted fake download links....
Old 03-23-08, 04:08 PM
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This seems like it would be considered entrapment. If it were somehow setup where the person sends an email to the FBI asking for links I could see that being legal.
Old 03-23-08, 04:14 PM
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Whoa. I'm going to have to tone it down on the kiddie porn jokes.

Couldn't they work on finding the guys who create the porn? Rather than go after [creepy] people who are a bit curious? I'm not really familiar about how secretive this stuff it. But that seems like a better alocation of resources.

This is like going after people who shared music downloads.
Old 03-23-08, 05:08 PM
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Yeah, you better tone it down. Never know who might show up here.

Old 03-23-08, 06:14 PM
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A lot of the child porn in circulation is old, or from countries where it is legal.
Old 03-23-08, 06:23 PM
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The only way I would be ok with this is if everything was dropped once nothing illegal was found on a person's computer. Clicking a link can happen pretty easily, even by accident. If an investigation was done on that person, and that person didn't have anything else illegal, then there shouldn't be any other charges.
Old 03-23-08, 07:54 PM
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Ah, good ole thought crime. Thank god the police are keeping us safe from people that haven't actually done anything wrong...because, you know, they might actually be thinking about doing something wrong.
Old 03-23-08, 07:57 PM
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Sounds like entrapment to me.
Old 03-23-08, 08:03 PM
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I'm opposed to them doing this.

Now where's the usual crowd to call me a pedophile lover?
Old 03-23-08, 08:39 PM
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Originally Posted by mndtrp
The only way I would be ok with this is if everything was dropped once nothing illegal was found on a person's computer. Clicking a link can happen pretty easily, even by accident. If an investigation was done on that person, and that person didn't have anything else illegal, then there shouldn't be any other charges.
Sure, but by then the damage would have already been done. Everyone would already know about the raid, the charges, the investigation. Even if one was later found to be innocent, their life and reputation would already be practically ruined. The initial raid and charges would be big news locally, the charges being dropped months later due to lack of evidence...not so big news.

Pretty scary stuff. The site that ranger mentioned had some very interesting discussion on what a bad idea this could be.
Old 03-23-08, 08:39 PM
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Just imagine them raiding a McDonald's or Starbucks because someone clicked on the link while in the wi-fi hotspot.
Old 03-23-08, 08:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Drexl
Just imagine them raiding a McDonald's or Starbucks because someone clicked on the link while in the wi-fi hotspot.
Or one of the many, many people who have unsecured wireless networks (if this news report doesn't show what a bad idea having an unsecured network is, I don't know what does).

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