This is one of those strange cases where the factual circumstances surrounding what happened make it hard to work up any particular high dudgeon, but the implications of what happened are still unsettling to those of us who are zealous about our privacy.

Violet Blue provided the link to The Smoking Gun. And the story went like this:

A porn site operated out of the Philippines had a really boneheaded user chat setup with two critical features — you could use it without identifying yourself (reasonable enough, considered in isolation) and you could use it to swap files with other users. To this, apparently, was added the third “feature” — namely, that the owners of the site didn’t appear to be moderating or attempting to limit how this feature set was used or misused.

The result was, I suppose, inevitable. Random creeps began file swapping unsavory-looking files. The actual content of those files, we dunno — we have a link to an ICE affidavit characterizing them as child pornography, but then, these are agents of the same agency that prosecutes people for dirty Simpsons cartoons, so who the fuck knows?

So anyway, what happened was, an ICE agent noticed the file-swapping behavior and contacted the site administrators to ask for IP addresses of some of the file-swapping individuals. (Not stated, but implicit, is that since much of this chat was happening in private rooms or in person-to-person chats, the ICE agent was probably engaging in the swaps in order to be identifying targets of interest. Sometimes I think 90% of the alleged seedy underbelly of the internet is undercover agents of various powers attempting to entrap each other.)

The site administrators, it turned out, were wondrously cooperative. They didn’t just hand over some IP addresses upon request — they gave the ICE agent an administrative login, so he could monitor and log every chat and file and IP address on the site.

For 16 months.

Now, I hate the idea of child pornography as much as the next person, and if that had been my site, I’d have stamped out the feature that attracted the traders as soon as I began to comprehend what was happening on my site. Random unregistered strangers swapping who-knows-what files on my server? I’d much rather have cockroaches and bedbugs and snakes. {shudder-shudder-shudder} So, it never would have survived long enough for ICE to notice. Having a feature like that is just boneheaded and asking for trouble.

So, on the one hand, I’ve got no particular sympathies for that specific situation. But on the other hand, does anybody else get the heebie-jeebies, thinking about federal law enforcement running around compiling complete back-end site logs from all the various internet sites that people use?

Think about that, the next time you’re having some hot cyber in the chat room of the dating site of your choice. It could be that ICE is your admin, and your steamy sex chat is being logged — along with everything else happening on the site — for future analysis. Not because they got a warrant, but because they saw something, somewhere on the site, that they wanted a closer look at, and your admin said “Sure! Have a login and password.”