'Dark Net' Kiddie Porn Website Stymies FBI Investigation

We're fascinated by the Tor Network, an online anonymizing technology that is often referred to by the much more sexy nickname "the dark net." The dark net is a shadow internet where people can do what they please with little fear of being tracked down and identified. Activists in oppressive regimes use the dark net, but so do drug dealers, gun dealers and pedophiles.

Newly released documents from the FBI provide an inside look at how authorities are largely helpless to stop even a brazen child pornography trade on the dark net.

In June 2011, a man called up the Detroit office of the FBI to report a child porn violation, according to documents obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request by transparency agitators Muckrock. The man said he'd found a dark net website called "TSChan," which was hosting child porn.

"He said it looked like child pornography because he could tell the subjects were very young with some in diapers," wrote an FBI agent who conducted a follow-up interview with the tipster.

The guy didn't want to see child porn. He'd just been trying to visit Silk Road, the dark net drug market we exposed a couple years ago. Which must have been a sort of awkward admission to make in an interview with an FBI agent. But in the process he came across TSChan through a link on a dark net directory website. The directory was almost certainly The Hidden Wiki, which is the best map to the dark net. The crowdsourced Hidden Wiki features tantalizing categories—"Markets," "Drugs," "Erotica," etc.—and is the starting place for many dark net newbies. (Here's a screenshot of the Hidden Wiki.)

So he was probably horrified to find the kiddie porn hive on TSChan and went to the feds with the URL in hand. But if he expected them to leap into their black vans and speed off to bust some pedophiles, he was mistaken.

From the report:

"Complaintant had no other information about who the subjects of the pictures were or who would have posted the pictures. Also, because everyone (all internet traffic) connected to the TOR Network is anonymous, there is not currently a way to trace the origin of the website. As such no other investigative leads exist."

On August 2nd, 2011, the interviewing agent recommended the case be closed without further investigation, according to the documents.

This isn't to say that people on the dark net are completely impervious. Some vigilante Anonymous hackers exposed the IP addresses of visitors to a dark net child porn site with an elaborate sting last year. And through careful infiltration, authorities were able to take down a dark net drug market not unlike the Silk Road called the Farmer's Market, in April. TSChan is also no more, apparently chased off the dark net by hackers, according to a note on the Hidden Wiki—it's been moved to a graveyard for "defunct" underage porn websites on the Hidden Wiki.

Still, it's an impressive reminder of the untamed digital wilds that are just a download away.

[Image by Jim Cooke, source art via Andrey Kasimov/Shutterstock]