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Judge tosses evidence in Dark Net child porn case obtained through mass FBI hack

'It follows that the resulting search was conducted as though there were no warrant at all.'


Patrick Howell O'Neill


Posted on Apr 21, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 10:05 pm CDT

A United States federal judge this week threw out evidence obtained by the FBI through hacking, marking the first time a defendant’s challenge against federal malware was successful, Motherboard reports.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s defeat is a victory for privacy activists and groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which argued that a single warrant should not allow the FBI to hack thousands of computers all over the world simultaneously.

The legal battle came in a trial against an accused member of a Dark Net child pornography site known as Playpen. The malware was used after the FBI seized the anonymous website, installed malware that infected visitors, and continued to run it in order to reveal the site’s visitors from Feb. 20 to March 4, 2015.

The order was issued by Judge William G. Young of the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts on evidence collected against one of the alleged Playpen users, Alex Levin. 

Levin’s lawyer, a public defender, argued that because the FBI used a warrant issued by a Virginia magistrate judge and Levin’s computer and home are in Massachusetts, the investigators overreached the judge’s jurisdiction.

The EFF called the original warrant “unconstitutional.”

“Based on the foregoing analysis, the Court concludes that the NIT warrant was issued without jurisdiction and thus was void ab initio,” Judge Young wrote in his order suppressing the evidence. “It follows that the resulting search was conducted as though there were no warrant at all.”

The evidence is now excluded from the trial.

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*First Published: Apr 21, 2016, 1:06 pm CDT