On January 18, United States District Judge Brian J. Davis sentenced a member of the darknet child abuse forum known as PlayPen to six years in prison. The defendant, a 42-year-old Jacksonville man named Jason Barnes, was found guilty following a September bench trial. During Operation Pacifier, FBI agents identified Barnes after he accessed PlayPen on February 28 and March 3, 2015. He admitted accessing and downloading illegal pictures and videos soon after his arrest.
FBI agents arrested Barnes on July 29, 2015. During an interview with investigators, Barnes said that he had “struggled with a child pornography addiction” for several years. He told the FBI that he had accessed PlayPen to view and download the content shared by other members of the forum. Forensic investigators found 500 illegal videos and a whopping 5,000 illegal pictures that Barnes had stored on one of his hard drives.
Many Operation Pacifier suspects either lived in or spent time in Florida, including forum founder Stephen Chase. Chase initially lived in North Carolina and his case was tried in North Carolina, even though he had moved to Florida at some point during the FBI’s investigation into his forum. US courts have seen many PlayPen cases, and even though the media coverage may have indicated otherwise.
The first few PlayPen cases attracted attention from mainstream media outlets due to the legal complications that came with them. David Tippens, for example, got all but one charge dropped, thanks to work from a public defender with experience handling the PlayPen cases. Tippens fought the FBI’s illegal warrant and won; the judge sentenced him to spend six months in custody (a sentence one can spend at a county jail). Since he had spent more than six months in jail while waiting for his trial and the judge added a “time served” clause to his sentence, Tippens walked out of the courtroom as a free man.
And another case more interesting than Barnes’ case was Jay Michaud’s case. Michaud famously walked without any charges whatsoever. He too fought the Department of Justice on the use of the warrant and the FBI’s refusal to provide any information on the so-called malware used to identify Tor users. “The government must now choose between disclosure of classified information and dismissal of its indictment” the Motion to Dismiss read. “Disclosure is not currently an option.”
PlayPen cases might seem to have vanished, but the more recent cases have caused less controversy (and often never mentioned PlayPen in the press releases), making them less interesting stories for the mainstream media. However, the courts are seeing and sentencing an increasing number of PlayPen forum members. Barnes is just one of many examples.