After the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested the administrator then took control of the child porn website PlayPen, investigators all over the world arrested about 900 users of the illicit site. Now, Swiss authorities have reported that they have detained 42 suspects who were alleged members of PlayPen.
In December 2014, the FBI took control of the PlayPen child porn website for 13 days after arresting the administrator. While the Bureau was controlling the website, they uploaded malware, which they call NITs (Network Investigative Techniques), which provided them the IP address of the users who logged on in that 13 days. With the IP addresses acquired, the FBI had an easy job tracking down the criminals to their actual location. From 2015 to now, the federal agency managed to start investigations against hundreds of suspects, and law enforcement authorities all over the world arrested about 900 users of the child porn website.
Soon after the public was informed about Operation Pacifier (the law enforcement action led by the FBI and the US Department of Justice), the FBI received negative criticism from privacy advocates stating that the agency breached the civil liberties of the suspects. Additionally, some federal judges in the United States had ruled against the warrant the Federal Bureau of Investigation used in the course of the operation.
In connection with the PlayPen child porn website, 870 suspects were arrested worldwide with 368 of them located in Europe. According to the FBI’s report, 296 child victims of sexual abuse were rescued of identified internationally, the Bureau added that the vast majority of the abused children are located outside of the US. The Federal Bureau of Investigation declared Operation Pacifier as the most successful law enforcement action against criminals who are located on the Tor network. One of the investigators said that Operation Pacifier was “one of the largest and most complex investigations ever undertaken in this field”.
“We were only able to pull it off with a lot of support from our international partners and field offices,” Special Agent Dan Alfin, who investigated the case as part of the Bureau’s Violent Crimes Against Children section, said in a statement.
The notorious PlayPen website on the dark web, while it was up and running, allowed its 150,000 online members to anonymously upload and access tens of thousands of illegal child porn images and videos. According to law enforcement authorities, the site’s child abuse content was indexed by age, sex, and type of sexual activity involved, with one section focusing exclusively on toddlers and another on incest.
The 58-year-old Steven Chase, who created PlayPen and was the lead administrator of the website, from Florida, was sentenced to 30 years in prison earlier this week, with two other administrators jailed for 20 years. Law enforcement authorities started an investigation against Chase soon after the website launched in the summer of 2014. The Federal Bureau of Investigation stated that they had become aware of the child pornwebsite, however, “given the nature of how Tor hidden services work, there was not much we could do about it,” Special Agent Alfin said. The investigation went on until December 2014, when a gap on the PlayPen website was discovered by foreign law enforcement authorities, who alerted the FBI. The PlayPen site has been down for more than two years, however, the FBI warned that similar sites continue to operate on the dark web providing child pornography content for their users.
“It’s ongoing and we continue to address the threat to the best of our abilities,” said Alfin. “It’s the same with any criminal violation: As they get smarter, we adapt, we find them.
On May 7, the Federal Office of Police (Fedpol) in Switzerland reported that law enforcement authorities arrested 42 suspects, who they believed that were the past members of the PlayPen child porn site. According to Cathy Maret, a spokeswoman for the Fedpol, the United States provided information to the Swiss Federal Office of Police in 46 cases. The report by the US authorities led to 42 arrests and criminal proceedings. In the police operation, apart from Fedpol, 14 cantonal and local police forces were involved.
According to Maret, the majority of the criminal proceedings were directed at consumers of child pornography, however, more serious sexual crimes were also discovered during the law enforcement operation. For example, investigators uncovered new information on a sexual assault case, which was committed ten years ago against a child. The suspect, who was unmasked by the FBI, is in temporary custody in Switzerland. The prosecution charged the defendant with 12 counts of sexual assault.
In the fight against the spread of child pornography content on the internet, the number of suspicious cases had seen a major increase in Switzerland, Maret said. The spokeswoman explained that this increase is the result of numerous reports received from the FBI. Last year, Europol received data from the United States on approximately 3,000 cases, where Swiss citizens were allegedly in connection with child pornography. After the Europol had received the information from US law enforcement authorities, they transferred it to Swiss authorities. The Fedpol took over the investigation, examined the data, and forwarded to the cantonal judicial authorities.
US law enforcement authorities gathered the data from internet service providers (ISPs), who filter all the data traffic, the spokeswoman said. When suspicious content is found, providers warn US authorities, who apparently sent the bulk of the information to the Swiss Federal Police.