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Is the FBI Hacking Your Computer From A Server In Virginia?

AP Photo / Cliff Owen, File

Is the FBI hacking your computer? That’s not an unreasonable question considering recent actions of bureau. Michael Pope has this look at how a server in Virginia was used to hack into hundreds of computers.

It was called Operation Pacifier, and it involved the FBI hosting a child pornography site from a server in Virginia. The idea was to install a hacking tool onto the computers of users so the feds could go after them. A new report from the Congressional Research Service cites this Virginia-based operation as one of a handful of examples where the FBI exploited technology vulnerabilities to obtain information. Brett Kaufman at the American Civil Liberties Union says Operation Pacifier crossed the line.

“This is clearly a search of a computer. You are placing code and then executing the code on a private computer on which a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

But Virginia legal expert Rich Kelsey says the FBI didn’t do anything online they wouldn’t have done in an old-fashioned sting operation.

“Commerce went digital. Crime went digital. The FBI has to go digital. The issue always comes back to is the search proper under the facts, and that’s always for a court to decide. And the court has to decide where those lines are.”

The operation resulted in hundreds of prosecutions, and those cases are now being challenged in appeals courts across the country. 

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

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