Pornography

Click a Link, Go to Jail for 10 Years

|

reason contributor Declan McCullagh uncovers the latest in hi-tech lynching:

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.

Read the whole investigative nightmare here.

NEXT: Free the Kidneys!

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. They’ve got to keep themselves busy to justify their budget. Since they are incapable or unwilling to either restrain themselves to enforcing the laws that cannot be handled by the states or working to solve real crimes (interstate serial murder, political corruptions, etc), I try and look at it this way:

    entrapping kiddie-diddlers > raiding Californian marijuana clubs

    I know it doesn’t have to be a zero sum game, but that’s how they roll.

  2. The FBI should be 90% dedicated to rooting out local political corruption and crushing dirty cops. They can go after the 8 billion child predators that exist behind every blade of grass in their spare time.

  3. Epi,

    Is that why my lawn screams every time I mow?

    (I’m just kidding. My wife mows the grass.)

  4. At a time when checking the weather forecast for a major city can be viewed as a preparation for a terrorist attack, I’m shocked not everybody’s using an anonymizing service these days. I don’t even open my browser at home without Tor running.

  5. I have a question.Say the FBI built a stand and a sign saying ‘free crack’.They put fake crack rocks made of sugar.Can they arrest those who take the ‘crack’?I need a legal opinion.

  6. anyone up for finding one of these url’s and posting it on daily kos with the title “Obama loves puppies”?

  7. adrian, I was thinking the same thing. Not to actually do it, but just how open to vicious pranks our govt has now left us.

  8. I would agree with you adrian, except that I would have moral issues with using other people as test cases just to prove a point to the FBI. How long do you think it would take before they figured out that someone was messing with them? Probably long after they’d ruined a lot of peoples’ lives.

    This is unless, of course, the trick doesn’t work because they have some built in safeguard that also detects the original page from which the link was clicked. But I don’t know enough about that sort of thing to know whether or not they could do that.

  9. anyone up for finding one of these url’s and posting it on daily kos with the title “Obama loves puppies”?

    Go ahead, then they can put you away forever for distributing kiddie porn. If you want to take that kind of risk, at least put it on Dondero’s blog with the caption “Rudy kills a Muslim”.

  10. Or, you know, if I’d RTFA –

    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.

    So, it wouldn’t matter to them what the referring website was.

  11. This just sends a chill up my spine. Assume for a moment the worst about this poor guy, that he really was trolling for child porn. We are sending the guy to jail for thinking about downloading the stuff. Not actually producing it or obtaining it but thinking about obtaining the stuff and clicking on a dud hyperlink. That ladies and gentleman is a thought crime. How long before we make thought crimes out of whatever other issues catch law enforcement’s fancy?

    In a just world the agent who thought this idea up would be fired and the FBI would face defunding on the theory that “if this is all you clowns have to do clearly you have outlived your usfulness to the country.

  12. “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.”

    That means that if someone is using your free wifi router, you get tagged.

  13. So the FBI is dickrolling.

  14. ‘Bater baitin

  15. Technically, clicking the link is used as probable cause to get a search warrant to search the clicker’s home and computer for real kiddie porn.

    Still fucking creepy, but they can’t jail you just for clicking on a fake kiddie porn link.

    Yet.

  16. Personally, I think the pedos should strike back by flooding the FBI email system with messages containing links that look like they will reveal evidence of felonies, but actually all go to goatse and two girls one cup.

  17. Look, thanks to you clowns I’ve seen that 2 girls and a cup video (if you haven’t seen it you are better off not knowing). I am not into that sort of thing even remotely, but I dutifully googled and clicked the link to see what people were blogging about. What if those girls turned out to be two 14 year olds? This is insane.

  18. Actually, on a serious note, I have never understood why the pedos don’t just use malware and insecure wifi networks to hide kiddie porn on millions of computers belonging to “normal” people.

    If they can spread their material widely enough, having it on your computer would no longer be evidence of mens rea.

  19. I declare Vlad Drac the winner of this thread.

  20. they can’t jail you just for clicking on a fake kiddie porn link.

    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.

    Are you sure?

  21. I stand corrected.

  22. That is an interesting point Fluffy. I have also never understood why they just don’t use one of the numerous web ananomyzers available. Maybe the FBI can crack those. I don’t know. But it seems pretty crazy that they just surf around using their own IP addresses.

  23. But it seems pretty crazy that they just surf around using their own IP addresses.

    I don’t think most pedophiles are very technically adept.

    If I were going to do anything remotely illegal on my computer, I would damn sure find a way to do it anonomously.

  24. lurker kurt:

    Good luck trying to stay anonymous. Easier said than done. Plus, you may already have done something illegal on your computer. How can you even know what’s illegal at any given moment? Read the charges against the guy?

  25. When I saw this on Volokh’s site, I wasn’t that disturbed about it, because I thought the same thing as Mr. X – and was more or less satisfied that this would be adequate for probable cause, based on the ‘free crack’ crack above, plus my legal education via the Wire.

    But P Brook’s comment is definitely making me re-think my position.

  26. An always appropriate quote when dealing with FBI fuckers:

    The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. – Ayn Rand

  27. Well, this could put those long link shorteners like snipurl and tinyurl (hey–that’s a pretty suspicious name anyway!) out of business. Why the hell would I ever click on a link which was shortened now?

    It would be trivial to cause all kinds of grief with this. Post a link in a message group or forum via TOR, and watch the dopes send their IP addresses to the FBI.

    There is a huge discussion of this bullshit over on Slashdot.

  28. Re: Michael Pack’s question

    you can be arrested and charged for selling or buying substances purported to be narcotics even if they aren’t narcotics at all. if you buy a bag of oregano from the cops that they say is weed, you’ll go to jail.

  29. If they can spread their material widely enough, having it on your computer would no longer be evidence of mens rea.

    I am not sure about that, I think these are strict liability crimes. If you click a link that says “hot women”, which you believe to be adults, but are actually 17 yo, you can be prosecuted. Not saying it is right but legally speaking I think that is how it works.

  30. I think people have been prosecuted for images put on their PCs by malware.

  31. I think people have been prosecuted for images put on their PCs by malware.

    Wasn’t there a teacher that was at least fired over this?

  32. Here’s a link to the Orin Kerr post that Kolohe refers to.

  33. If they put up a crack $1 sign on a door, they would arrest the pizza delivery who simply knocked on the door, claiming the knock was an evidence that he wanted to purchase crack. That fact that he was delivering pizza would not matter, they would leave that to the courts to decide.

  34. “””I am not sure about that, I think these are strict liability crimes. If you click a link that says “hot women”, which you believe to be adults, but are actually 17 yo, you can be prosecuted. “””

    Intent seems not to matter anymore, except when it works to their advantage.

  35. Intent seems not to matter anymore, except when it works to their advantage.

    We seem to be moving away from the concept of “mens rea”, zero tolerance and all.

    I know for sure that statutory rape is strict liability, there is no mistake of age defense in most states. If you are lied to too bad, so I assume these crimes are likewise.

  36. Vosburgh faced four charges: clicking on an illegal hyperlink

    An “illegal hyperlink”? WTF? Seriously: W. T. F.

  37. I think people have been prosecuted for images put on their PCs by malware. Wasn’t there a teacher that was at least fired over this?

    Yes, brought to you by my glorious Home State; not just fired, but facing a longer prison term than most murderers do, for “endangering a minor” or some such stupid bullshit. Google “Julie Amero” if you want more details.

  38. Google “Julie Amero” if you want more details.

    This thread has me depressed/angry enough. I don’t think I can handle any more.

  39. Maybe the FBI can crack those. I don’t know.

    Yeah, who knows. It’s not like they’re gonna tell us. I suspect that these sorts of steps taken to protect oneself are largely a waste of time anyway. I’ve heard that even supposedly-unbreakable encryption isn’t. It’s the same thing with ID theft. You can’t prevent it – so why bother? Yeah, I’m in a rotten mood today.

  40. Mr. X said:

    Still fucking creepy, but they can’t jail you just for clicking on a fake kiddie porn link.

    I RTFA and he was charged with, and convicted of clicking the link. FTA:

    But Vosburgh was convicted of the first and last counts, which included clicking on the FBI’s illicit hyperlink.

  41. Obviously I missed that Mr. X was already corrected. Sorry…

  42. The problem is rather significant. The FBI puts out the link but they can’t control what happens with the link after they do this. If someone changed the text, perhaps because they assumed that the people offering this material was the FBI, and sent it out or posted it somewhere then lots of people would end up going there with no intention to buy anything or knowledge of the claimed content. In addition any website is going to end up with visitors just by accident. A typo in the url can send you to a very different site than the one you expected.

    You can’t show that ever person who went to the site did so for the same motivation. They might show that a specific person they target got a specific solicitation and then clicked on the url to get the material promised. But once it goes beyond that controlled group of recipients it can’t be controlled. This seems to be a truism of the net — you can’t contain the information easily in a controlled group. It tends to spread.

    All it takes is one person figuring out what happened, having the URL but not going to it himself, then spreading it around with different labels. For instance, if you posted it on a Right-wing fundamentalist website with promises that this site is important for the “war on porn”. (True actually.) You could get hundreds of censorship zealots logging on over a period of a few days only to find out what the war on porn really amounts to when the FBI breaks down their doors.

    This sounds like another stupid government plan with unintended consequences put together by morons who actually don’t see the problems with their plan or simply don’t care.

  43. “””You can’t show that ever person who went to the site did so for the same motivation.”””

    Clicking a single link, I agree. However if the person clicks that link, and likes what he/she sees, and click on more links with more pictures, then you know they really are interested in the content.

  44. Clicking a single link, I agree. However if the person clicks that link, and likes what he/she sees, and click on more links with more pictures, then you know they really are interested in the content.

    But that’s not an option, because apparently clicking the first link just sends you to a page filled with gibberish code.

  45. Hardly a day goes by I don’t click on a link with an ambiguous description from Usenet, and many times wind up at porn sites. When I go back to the link, I sometimes recognize language that aficionados may recognize that makes it unambiguous to them, but not to me. I could very easily have kiddie porn thumbnails or who knows what?

    And of course I’m interested in issues like this, so some day I could wind up at such an address intentionally arising from a discussion thread like this one. Could Ranchi be such a forum?

  46. First hour on the job as President I would abolish the FBI, have the building torn down and the earth salted where it stood. Next hour we’d be setting up Nuremberg style trials for those involved with it.

  47. You don’t have to click on the link…

    Link prefetching is a standards compliant mechanism used by some web browsers, which utilizes browser idle time to download or prefetch documents that the user might visit in the near future. A web page provides a set of prefetching hints to the browser, and after the browser is finished loading the page, and after an idle time has passed, it begins silently prefetching specified documents, storing them in its cache. When the user visits one of the prefetched documents, it can be served up quickly out of the browser’s cache.
    Link prefetching

    …to go to jail.

  48. “Prefetching” sound like jailbait to me. You’re in trouble, CharlesWT.

  49. Hmmm…Prefetching: Someone to young to be fetching in appearance…

  50. You know it means someone who’s becoming fetching, ya wiseguy.

    Now, then: You have the right to remain silent. You have the right…

  51. clicking on an illegal hyperlink

    How in hell can it be illegal to click on a hyperlink provided by the government?

    I have trouble buying that it might give them probable cause or some such, but at least there’s an argument for that. But if I can be prosecuted for clicking, why can’t they be prosecuted for setting it up?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.