- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 10, 2016

Federal prosecutors on Friday asked that the jury tasked with hearing a case against a Florida man accused of running a massive child porn website be sparred details about the government’s role in running that site after his arrest.

The request appears in a newly-filed motion entered in U.S. District Court as the government’s attorneys prepare to argue its case against Steven Chase, the alleged administrator of the “Playpen” website who faces seven felony counts of child porn in relation to that role when his trial begins next week.

After arresting the website’s alleged operator in Feb. 2015, federal authorities admittedly took control over Playpen and kept the site running for nearly two weeks in order to further investigate its users.

While maintaining the site, the FBI used a court-approved search warrant to surreptitiously install spyware on its visitors’ computers that investigators used to collect identifying information to use in pursuing additional child porn cases. More than 100 alleged Playpen users were subsequently prosecuted as a result of the mass hacking campaign, attorney Peter Adolf, Mr. Chase’s attorney, wrote in a court filing last month.

The government’s attorneys on Friday filed a motion which, if approved, would forbid any evidence or arguments about the FBI’s brief operation of the illegal website from being heard in court by a jury weighing the case against Mr. Chase.

“The government’s brief operation of Playpen occurred after Chase was identified and arrested. As such, it is unrelated to the conduct for which Chase is being prosecuted and would therefore not assist the trier of facts to determine a fact at issue,” U.S. Attorney Jill Westmoreland Rose wrote in Friday’s motion.

Additionally, the jury picked to decide the case would be “unfairly prejudiced, confused or misled” by hearing of the government’s role in running the child porn site, and that “any argument or evidence to the fact that the government briefly operated Playpen to identify website users is unfairly prejudicial because it would invite the jury to make its decision based on actions taken by the government rather than based on the conduct for which the defendant has been charged,” according to the filing.

Playpen’s membership grew by more than 30 percent and approximately 200 videos, 9,000 images and 13,000 links to child porn were posted on the site during the less than two weeks the FBI ran the website, Mr. Adolf said previously. He did not immediately respond to requests for comment this weekend.

Defense attorneys for the site’s alleged operator previously asked a federal judge to dismiss the case altogether on account of the government’s actions, but that request was denied earlier this month with U.S. District Judge Richard L. Voorhees ruling that “the government’s conduct in operating the website occurred subsequent to Defendant’s arrest for charged conduct and therefore the conduct neither assisted Defendant in allegedly committing the charged acts nor infringed upon any constitutional right belonging to Defendant.”

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