The FBI Took Over a Child Porn Site—and Users Loved It
Users raved about site's improvements while agency tried to secretly find suspects
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 23, 2016 6:53 AM CDT
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Attorney unsuccessfully tried to argue the FBI's fixes led to increased membership.   (Pixabay)

(Newser) – For two weeks in early 2015, the FBI infiltrated a child porn website on the dark web and kept it running, hoping to use special software to ID users. Not only was the mission successful—nearly 190 people have been charged in the sting as of July, per the DOJ—but the FBI-operated Playpen got rave reviews from unaware users, noted Motherboard last month.The public defender for Steven Chase—the man found guilty by a federal court last Friday of running the site, per a DOJ release—argued the site improvements helped lure more people to sign up for Playpen, and that should have led to a dismissal of his client's indictment, according to a court filing. Just as the FBI started working on the site, Playpen did seem to be rife with complaints. "I've been having trouble getting in here all day," reads one archived message.

That tune changed days later, with users noticeably perking up at the site's apparent fixes. "Working FAST today," one user gushed, with others enthusiastically agreeing. Chase's defender, Peter Adolf, says that during the FBI's two weeks at the helm, membership rose by more than 30% and the site's users jumped from a weekly average to 11,000 to 50,000, with hundreds more videos and thousands of images and child porn links posted to the site during the two-week period. In his motion, Adolf said the FBI's alleged site improvements spurred mass child-porn distribution "so outrageous as to shock the conscience of the court." Motherboard notes, though, that Adolf didn't really offer evidence the FBI's tweaks led to the member surge. Chase awaits sentencing.