New York Times on 'the ethics of a child pornography sting'

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The New York Times "Room for Debate" blog poses this question:

After breaking into what they called one of the largest child pornography websites, F.B.I. agents allowed it to operate for 13 days, snaring more users, but also allowing thousands of images to be downloaded. This was at least the third time such an approach was used in a child pornography case, USA Today reported.

Is capturing more viewers and distributors of child pornography worth the damage done to the victims, when their images continue to be shown?

Four law professors and an anti-child abuse advocate weigh in. I was one of those law professors, and here's the opening of my contribution:

You probably know the dilemma of the trolley problem: A runaway trolley is barreling down the track and will kill five innocent people in the way. You can pull a switch that will direct the trolley to a different track. But another man is standing on that second track, and pulling the switch will lead to his death.

It's an excruciating choice: Do nothing and let five die, or pull the switch to save four lives but also take responsibility for one person's death.

The F.B.I. faces a similar dilemma when its agents seize the computer servers of a child pornography site hosted on the Internet's "dark web." The F.B.I. has two difficult options for when to shut it down.

You can read my essay, as well as the four other essays, here.