Dozens of Lawyers Across the US Fight the FBI’s Mass Hacking Campaign

J. Edgar Hoover Building, FBI Headquarters. Image: BY-SA 3.0
The US Department of Justice has a battle on its hands, as dozens of lawyers question evidence the FBI obtained using hacking techniques across a string of ongoing cases.


In 2015, the FBI used a piece of malware to identify suspected visitors of a dark web child pornography site. Now, nearly 30 legal teams across the country have pushed to get all evidence thrown out of court, and many attorneys have decided to pool their efforts in a “national working group.”

The cases revolve around Operation Pacifier, in which the FBI briefly assumed control of the “Playpen” website. The agency hacked computers all across the world—including over one thousand in the US—based on one warrant that has become legally contentious.

In the wake of the operation, many defendants quickly pleaded guilty, likely because of the wall of evidence presented before them: The FBI’s malware grabbed a suspect’s IP address, MAC address, and other identifying system information when they visited specific child pornography-related threads.

„The more that we coordinate and we can get our arguments and pleadings out for other people to use … the better the overall legal products are going to be“

But some lawyers have successfully argued that all the evidence should be suppressed. In others instances, the government’s case has fallen apart after the FBI would not hand over the full code for its malware, even when the judge said the defense had a right to see it. Even suspects who have already had guilty pleas accepted are now successfully having them withdrawn.

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