When the FBI raided a huge child pornography service last year, they had to make a tough choice. Should the government agency shut down the site or should they leave it open and run a sting, hopefully luring in child predators who they could then prosecute to the fullest extent of the law? They chose the latter. For two full weeks, the FBI was essentially peddling child porn to the masses.
Legally, this falls in the same gray area inhabited by most undercover law enforcement operations.
Morally, it's much more complicated. In order to nab these guys, to prove that the onus is not just on the person who creates the sexually explicit imagery of children, prosecutors have to show kids are hurt again when those images are viewed. But that's exactly what happened in this case -- kids were hurt again and again over a series of weeks, as more pedophiles viewed their photos.
Essentially, the very premise upon which people who view child porn are brought to justice is at risk here.
And what about those kids? Another piece of their dignity was stripped away with each viewing, each comment. Who knows how many lives were put at risk -- as pedophiles are known to have "favorites," kids they might try tracking down offline.
If I were the mother of a child in one of those photos, I don't know that I'd be able to accept some "ends justify the means" excuse for the FBI not taking my kid off the site immediately. Sure, maybe some pedophiles were caught, but what about my child? Is there any real end that justifies hurting a child?
It doesn't exactly help the FBI that they haven't shared much on the people caught in this mess. No one has been prosecuted publicly yet.
Maybe a huge line of predators being frog-marched into court can quell the moral outrage here. But somehow I doubt it. The child porn issue is just too fraught with emotion for this to go away.
Was the government right here or should the site have been shut down right away?
Image via Elvert Barnes/Flickr