US District Judge Richard L. Voorhees of the Western District of North Carolina imposed a 20-year prison sentence on David Lynn Browning of Wooton, Kentucky. Browning’s involvement was in the infamous darknet child pornography site PlayPen. He was a moderator and co-admin of the site before it was taken down. He is the third of the three identified administrators of PlayPen to be convicted but is known as the site’s “Administrator 2”. In addition to the 20-year sentence, Browning, 47, was also ordered to be put under lifetime post-prison supervision.
The United States Department of Justice in a news release referred to Browning as “a member of a highly sophisticated, global child exploitation enterprise.” He played a major role in running a site that is a complete opposite of child-pornography-averse darknet markets such as Oasis Market and Rutor.
Browning entered in a plea deal with the government, wherein he admitted to having acted as the global moderator of PlayPen. The site allowed him and over 150,000 site members to offer thousands of posts. Moreover, they viewed tens of thousands of posts involving the sexual abuse of children. The site is being described by the US Department of Justice as a “sophisticated global enterprise dedicated to the sexual exploitation of children.” It has facilitated the sexual abuse of very young victims, some of whom were infants.
Browning was heavily involved in the everyday operations of PlayPen. He assumed vital functions in membership management and the development and enforcing of site rules. He was particularly responsible for post deletions unrelated to child pornography. Also, Browning’s admissions included authorship of more than a thousand posts. He also is credited with designing the website logo.
Additionally, Browning confessed to using advanced technological means to get around the attempts of law enforcers in identifying him and others involved in the operation of PlayPen. He confirmed that he and others behind PlayPen made use of the Tor anonymity network, hidden services, and high-level file encryption.
Completing the Case Against PlayPen?
This conviction comes roughly three weeks after Michael Fluckiger, 46, received a similar sentence in January this year. Fluckiger, a resident of Portland, Indiana, pleaded guilty in December 2015. He was handed a 240-month prison sentence for his involvement in a child exploitation enterprise. Another PlayPen administrator, Steven Chase, was also convicted in September 2016. The verdict was for one count of child pornography advertising, one count of child pornography possession, and three counts of the transportation of child pornography materials.
Browning’s conviction completes the cases against PlayPen’s known operators. Browning, Fluckiger, and Chase are the three personalities identified to be running the darknet child pornography site from different locations. Chase is tagged as the lead administrator of the site. However, this most recent conviction does not necessarily mean that everyone involved in establishing and operating the site has already been prosecuted and convicted.
The FBI employed hacking methods of unprecedented scale to identify and arrest pedophiles and individuals patronizing child pornography. The FBI particularly targeted PlayPen, which is known to be the largest darknet child pornography site in the world to date. It took some time and a great deal of effort before the FBI tracked down the three convicted personalities mentioned above. It is possible that other administrators or even the real owners of the site have yet to be identified.
Moreover, there are still over a thousand cases that are yet to be completed in connection to PlayNet. The FBI’s crackdown on the site has resulted in more than 1,500 cases against pedophiles and child pornography offenders who have been using PlayNet. Charges filed in several states include Florida, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Wisconsin, and Utah.
“Fifteen-hundred or so of these cases are going to end up getting filed out of the same, underlying investigation,” Colin Fieman said. Fieman is a federal public defender for the Western District of Washington. He is responsible for handling many of the cases.
Project Safe Childhood
The arrest of personalities linked to child pornography is not uncommon and surprising. Government efforts in identifying and prosecuting child pornography perpetrators in the dark web have been given ample coverage in regular and dark websites. The arrest and prosecution of Browning and others involved in PlayPen are part of Project Safe Childhood. This US-based project is an initiative aimed at addressing the growing problem of sexual exploitation and abuse among children. It launched in May 2006 by the US Department of Justice to improve efforts in identifying, locating, apprehending, and prosecuting those involved in the exploitation of children using the internet. Project Safe Childhood aims to identify and rescue victims.