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Child porn bust lands the military in hot water – but not why you may think

Child porn bust lands the military in hot water – but not why you may think
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A child pornographer lands in prison, thanks to some advanced military technology. But now the U.S. military is ripped for how it uncovered the illegal stash.

In 2010, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, better known as NCIS thanks to the popular TV show, helped police in Washington catch a man with child pornography by tracking illegal images back to the man's computer. This sounds more like a television script than real life, but it actually happened.

NCIS used a law-enforcement program called RoundUp to track the man's activity on a file-sharing network called Gnutella. File-sharing networks allow users to download content from other users' computers. They're not always used for illegal activity but have drawn criticism in the past for letting users illegally download movies and music and share illegal content like child pornography.

On the surface, that sounds like a great story. The Navy used its technology and expertise to get a sick criminal off of the streets. But, the way NCIS went about collecting the incriminating evidence raises some very tricky questions about civilian privacy.

In fact, NCIS' methods are now under fire from the courts because they could put innocent civilians' computers under warrantless surveillance from the military. And, that could have some really serious consequences.

The controversy

The NCIS overreached and took government surveillance to a whole new level. While it resulted in the arrest of a criminal, it turns the Navy also accessed data from innocent civilians' computers throughout the state of Washington. In fact, NCIS looked into every single computer using Gnutella in the state of Washington. There are millions of Gnutella users nationwide, so that could be a lot of people.

To make matters worse, a federal appeals court determined that the search also violated national law and decided that the Navy overstepped its bounds. That's because under the Posse Comitatus Act, the military is prohibited from enforcing laws on civilians. Now, the man could go free because the court has ruled to suppress the evidence NCIS found.

"...RoundUp surveillance of all computers in Washington amounted to impermissible direct active involvement in civilian enforcement of the child pornography laws, not permissible indirect assistance," Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for the San Francisco-based appeals court.

Sick criminals like the one found in this investigation need to be brought to justice. But, we have laws in this country to protect innocent civilians for a reason. Nothing good happens when investigators don't follow those laws - your privacy could be violated and the criminals could go free.

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Source: Ars Technica
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