The Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2015, took control of PlayPen, one of the largest darknet child pornography websites. PlayPen members, one-by-one, were identified and prosecuted worldwide. Newcastle Crown Court, after notably lengthy proceedings, finalized the sentencing of another PlayPen member—Steven Archer.
Archer was another PlayPen member identified by the police in 2015. Like many of the accused, Archer fought the charges placed before him. In the US, many suspects battled the court over the legality of the evidence obtained by the FBI’s quasi-legal hack.
Archer fought the case differently; he was arrested with only one illegal photo in his possession and believed having only one was not as bad as those who had thousands. He similarly denied ever having the one photo he was found in possession of.
Prosecutor Paul Mitchell told the court: “This derives from an ongoing investigation run by the FBI in America. They have been investigating what is called the dark web, part of the internet people access in a way which is supposed to mask their identity from the authorities.”
The suspect repeatedly denied the allegations, the prosecutor claimed. The UK National Crime Agency received Archer’s IP address from the FBI but little else. Because of Archer’s denials, Mitchell said, the prosecution had to spend additional time and money preparing their case.
Special investigators were required to make trips across the UK to access Archer’s computers. They analyzed them for evidence that would incriminate him beyond what the FBI and National Crime Agency provided. Officials knew that an individual, using the IP address from a computer in Archer’s grandmother’s home, accessed the site for a total of ten hours and five minutes.
Authorities pointed out that Archer was without a job at the time and used his grandmother’s house as his own residence.
Three computers were seized from the home and forensic analysts dug through any data made available to them. Eventually, the prosecutor said, they were able to determine that Archer registered with PlayPen on November 5, 2014, and accessed it as late as February 6, 2015.
Analysis of his computers showed that Archer viewed more than 900 photos and videos of children being abused. But he deleted all photos from any local storage. There was no evidence that Archer kept photos beyond the single photo investigators found him with..
One photo was enough to prosecute the man and Mitchell wanted to make sure the court would see it that way. The prosecution spent close to $6,000 during the investigation. They wanted to be able to prove to the court, beyond reasonable doubt, that Archer had been accessing the material in “disturbing quantities.” The hand played during interrogations—that he was innocent and/or never saw the other photos—had to be suppressed, Mitchell said.
The day of Archer’s hearing came and the prosecution made it clear that Archer had access to 963 photos. All consisted of similar content and were searched for specifically. Archer viewed the worst, most serious, type of child porn, the prosecution argued.
After months of denial and fighting the case, Archer admitted everything on that one day.
Nick Cartmell, Archer’s lawyer, spoke for the defendant: “He had only one photograph. He had had others but he had not tried to keep them. They had been seen, they had been deleted. He had not been hoarding or keeping the material.”
Archer received 11 months imprisonment, suspended upon completion of a sexual rehabilitation program. He was also required to sign as a registered sex offender and abide by a sexual harm prevention order for five years.