(Tea Party 247) – This month, Forbes discovered that the US government has revealed the identities of global victims of child abuse.
Forbes’ Thomas Brewster reports:
Investigators at the FBI and the DHS have failed to conceal minor victims’ identities in court documents where they disclosed a combination of teenagers’ initials and their Facebook identifying numbers—a unique code linked to Facebook accounts. Forbes discovered it was possible to quickly find their real names and other personal information by simply entering the ID number after “facebook.com/”, which led to the minors’ accounts.
In two cases unsealed this month, multiple identities were easily retrievable by simply copying and pasting the Facebook IDs from the court filings into the Web address. (Forbes is withholding names and other information from the court documents to protect the victims’ identities.)
In one recently unsealed case in Nebraska, an FBI search warrant application not only provided the initials and Facebook ID number, but detailed explicit conversations between a then 14-year-old female minor and a 28-year-old male. In graphic personal private chats, they discussed sexual acts with one another. Facebook had provided the chats in a tip to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), which then handed the information to the police. Investigators then requested, and successfully obtained, data from the social media giant for both the male and the minor’s accounts.
The same chats were disclosed in an unsealed complaint against the perpetrator, which also provided the initials and Facebook ID of the minor. (She was 14 at the time but is now 16.) That complaint also notes that the victim sent 27 explicit images of herself deemed to be “child pornography” to the groomer. The perpetrator pleaded guilty to his crimes and was sentenced to 36 months in prison in early 2018.
He explains that Forbes has contacted the DOJ on this and another case, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.
“Any time information is released, protecting the victim’s identity has to be of the utmost importance. In Canadian courts, this type of information would not be released for public consumption nor should it be,” said Signy Arnason, associate executive director at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
“I am amazed. Allowing anything to go into the public domain that would allow a child victim to be identified is absolutely forbidden. Pretty sure that if anything like that were to happen in the U.K. the persons responsible would find themselves in very hot water,” added John Carr, a consultant who has worked for Microsoft and the U.K. government on child exploitation and internet safety.
Seamus Hughes, a part-time consultant on searching U.S. court filings database Pacer, explains he has also found similar cases where the identities of abuse victims have been exposed in public documents in this way.
“It’s a problem that unfortunately occurs with too much regularity. DOJ must take seriously their responsibility to redact the victim’s personal information,” he explains.
Huges says that he has contacted attorney’s offices in three different districts to alert them to this issue, and has not had a response.