According to recent reports the FBI has been using honey-trap hyperlinks which claim to lead to child pornography in order to entice offenders into clicking them. Last year, it seems, armed raids were carried out on homes in Nevada, New York and Pennsylvania as a direct result of such link clicking, even though the video files downloaded from the undercover government server contained no illegal images.
It seems that the courts are happy to approve the practise, although others are less convinced of the morality if not the legality of the operation, quite apart from the technical hurdles it throws up. Who is to say if the householder is using an unsecured wireless connection at the time, or if it is instead some paedophile sitting in a car outside with his laptop?
Of course, federal law in the US does criminalise the attempted downloading of child porn, and carries as much as 10 years in prison, and nobody is suggesting that people who are interested in such filth do not deserve to pay for their actions. But entrapment is a slippery path to be treading, and the implications are enormous. Is it OK for the FBI to spam millions with email offering drugs and then arresting anyone who clicks the links, for example?
That said, in this particular case, the honeypot links were limited to a discussion forum that the Feds had reason to believe was inhabited by people trading in child porn images. Is this really, then, such an evil tactic or do the ends justify the means? Especially if those ends mean taking people off the streets and into sex offender programs. It is easy to take the knee jerk reaction and agree, but we have to view the broader picture. Already, the judiciary has taken the view that the 'anyone could be using my wireless connection' argument does not invalidate a search warrant when it comes to probable cause in such cases.
But do the courts really understand the technology involved here? What about if you have a browser plug-in to download links when you hover the mouse over them even if you have not clicked them? Tools to speed up the browsing experience by pre-caching links could, effectively, land you in prison it would appear.