Friday, March 21, 2008

Perv police entrap suspects

Courtesy of Declan McCullagh at CNet's

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.

You mean the feds can do that? They can crash through people's doors because they clicked on links that looked like they led to illegal material, but didn't?

Apparently so. CNet reviewed the law and found that courts have approved the technique. The feds can sit back, record the IP addresses of anybody who taps their mouse at the wrong moment, and then charge in with guns drawn.

McCullagh points out just where this sort of fishing expedition can lead (as if it hasn't led too far already):

The implications of the FBI's hyperlink-enticement technique are sweeping. Using the same logic and legal arguments, federal agents could send unsolicited e-mail messages to millions of Americans advertising illegal narcotics or child pornography--and raid people who click on the links embedded in the spam messages. The bureau could register the "" domain name and prosecute intentional visitors. And so on.

The judge presiding in one defendant's case even ruled that the possibility that one of his neighbors clicked on the link while connected to the Internet through his WiFi network "would not have negated a substantial basis for concluding that there was probable cause to believe that evidence of child pornography would be found on the premises to be searched."

That means that one surfer using a shared IP address over a network can bring down a world of trouble on anybody else using the same connection. That would seem to be a very common scenario, since many Internet providers use dynamic IP addresses (any of you techies tell me if I'm misinterpreting this scenario).

This is a bit reminiscent of last year's revelation that New York City police were planting purses in public view and arresting anybody who picked one up without immediately heading for the nearest cop -- with potential penalties of up to four years in prison.

It's obvious that we've reached a situation in which law-enforcement agencies feel perfectly justified in setting moral booby traps for the public at large -- and then raining damnation down on anybody who can be interpreted (even mistakenly) as making the wrong choice.

That's right -- life as a series of hidden tests, with prison time and humiliation the payoff for hesitation or a twitchy mouse finger.

Happy surfing. And be careful of what you pick up in public.

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