It’s controversial, because it touches on multiple taboos in our society, sex, child abuse and security theater. You see, there’s been a growing call for a national sex offender registry, especially in the wake of news that a British Pedophile had sexually abused up to 200 children in Malaysia.
The news is especially shocking for Malaysians, who are still coming to grips with the fact that a foreign ‘mat salleh’ abused our children, in our country, right under our fucking noses, and we’re only now learning about it….years after the abuse had taken place and even then, the details are sketchy.
As I said,many have renewed the call for a Sex Offender registry. The idea being, that if we start registering sex offenders, we could more easily monitor them, and be able cut-off their ability to further abuse children. It’s a great idea, but it wouldn’t have saved these 200 children, simply because Richard Huckle wasn’t convicted of any sexual abuse, he wouldn’t have been on the registry even if had one.
Then we have calls for better screening procedures of people who work with children. Another great idea, but again wouldn’t have stopped Richard Huckle. Maybe a extremely thorough and in-depth screening process that interviewed his parents, grandparents and fourth grade history teacher would have uncovered something about his psychology that may have triggered some alarms–but that level of screening is both unrealistic and a gross invasion of privacy.
Finally we have calls for better sex-education in schools, which I’m 100% in favor off. Proper sex education may have prompted one of Huckle’s victims to speak out and report the issue, which may prompted his arrest at a much earlier time–but ultimately these were impoverished children who were not given access to proper education anyway, so sex education in public schools probably wouldn’t have helped them.
But are we forgetting something obvious?
You gotta catch them first
A registry relies on the fact that we catch these Pedophiles in the first place. After all, sex offenders are only registered once their caught–and not before. If we really want a registry to work, we have aggressively pursue pedophilia wherever it may be to catch and begin ‘registering’ these offenders.
We can’t be sitting about, shaking our legs, hoping for more victims to step forward and report their abusers. We need to thoroughly pursue pedophilia online, and search it out wherever it might be.
But that makes some uncomfortable, and for good reason–it’s creepy. In the Huckle case, the investigators managed to track him down because Huckle was a frequent visitor to online pedophile forum called the Love Zone. The Australian police manage to tie the identity of the operator of the Love Zone to a real-life Australian, and through sheer luck catch him while he was actually administering the website. From there, they got a list of visitors to the site, which led them to Richard Huckle.
The Love Zone was hosted on the ‘dark web’, which I assume means a TOR hosted website. TOR is a piece of technology that allows for the anonymous hosting of websites (as well as anonymous browsing–but you knew that already).
A brief word about TOR
So how does the FBI, or the Australian police actually find Pedophiles who host their disgusting content on the dark web?
They HACK them. Yup, government agencies actually hack into these websites and gain access.
And in some cases, they hack not just the servers that host the content, but the visitors to these sites.
At this point you’re probably saying–so what Mr. Tech Evangelist. Who cares about the dark-web, it’s a down-trodden network of hoodlums and drug dealers, why should we care about undermining the TOR network, or law enforcement hacking computers on them.
Well for one thing, the TOR network is how many journalist and whistle-blowers securely use the internet. Bloggers who speak out against the mexican drug cartels, and dissidents of repressive regimes, and yes even regular facebook users. A vulnerability on the network makes these already vulnerable individuals even more vulnerable–but that’s not all.
Users on TOR start out anonymous by default, in many cases unless the user is hacked their identity remains a secret, which complicates law enforcement which is based on geographic jurisdiction.
And while nobody has sympathy for pedophiles getting hacked, the truth is more complicated.
The FBI and Playpen
When the FBI ran an operation to shutdown Playpen, a massive online pedophile forum, they didn’t shut it down once they manage to take control of it. Rather, they continued hosting child pornography on their servers in the hopes of further unmasking the site’s frequent visitors.
Let me repeat that last sentence, in trying to find out visitors to Playpen, the FBI hosted child pornography on US government servers.
If it takes a thief to catch a thief, I guess it takes a pedo to catch a pedo.
The FBI didn’t just host the content, it started hacking the computers of visitors to the site, and managed to get thousands of ‘real’ IP addresses.
Yes, but what the FBI did was bloody genius. Since they controlled the servers of the website, they injected a little Flash application that would run on the visitors machine, and ping back the real IP address instead of routing it through TOR. There’s a lesson there for everyone–disable Flash…NOW!
It all sounds a bit technical, but basically the FBI hacked the computers of every visitor to Playpen, then used their hack to expose the visitors true identity and then nail those fucking pedos with arrest warrants. In the end 137 pedophiles were caught in the operation, and most people rejoiced–who wouldn’t like the sight of hundreds of child abusers sent to prison…except nobody went to prison.
The Pedophiles would have gone to prison, if it wasn’t for those meddling civil libertarians.
The legal complexities of hacking
You see, the civil libertarians weren’t exactly pleased with two things. For one, the FBI didn’t reveal the nature of the hack, and a Federal Judge agreed with them, saying:
“Much of the details of this information is lost on me, I am afraid, the technical parts of it, but it comes down to a simple thing, You say you caught me by the use of computer hacking, so how do you do it? How do you do it? A fair question.”
“And the government should respond under seal and under the protective order, but the government should respond and say here’s how we did it,”
The second issue with the FBI hack was a ‘technicality’ regarding the issuing of warrants, the magistrate that issued the warrant for the FBI to hack into computers visiting Playpen was in Virginia, but the visitors to the site were from areas outside his jurisdiction. The warrants were not valid, and hence the entire exercise was deemed illegal...you know, fruit of the poisonous tree sort of thing.
It seems those meddling civil liberties are afforded to pedophiles as well as us regular folks as well–who knew?
The knee-jerk reaction would be to allow warrants to expand beyond geographic boundaries, but that would be an enormous expansion of government powers–and something that shouldn’t be viewed lightly, even if allowed us to catch 100’s of Pedos.
But I’m digressing way off point here.
The point is, sex offender registries and screening procedures would have no effect in combating child sex abuse unless we actually catch the pedos to begin with. And In the age of the internet, the only way to catch them is to aggressively search them out on the dark web, and if need be visit and hack into every single kiddie porn forum there is.
But as we saw, allocating government dollars for law enforcement officers to visit child porn forums, hack into them, and continue hosting their content seems a pretty hard thing to stomach. It gets even more disturbing, as kiddie porn forums are usually international in nature, and extend beyond the limitations of laws we have in place today.
What we truly need is the proper legal framework to address the jurisdictional complexities it poses, and a task force with the requisite technical skills to find and compromise these sites.
If politicians wanted to work on something–it should be that.
Let me just say, I don’t quite believe that the Australian police has been 100% honest in how they found the operator of The Love Zone–it sounds way to convenient. When you hear stories from the police like “we pulled him over for a stop-light violation and found drugs on him”, you can almost be certain that some parallel construction is going on. I’m sure the Aussie police (God Bless their hearts), aren’t divulging the exact nature of how they conducted their investigations and found their suspect.