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Judge says evidence from FBI pornography search can be used

A federal judge says an FBI pornography search was unconstitutional but that the evidence found can still be used against a northeast Minnesota man.

U.S. District Judge John Tunheim found that FBI agents exceeded the scope of a Virginia search warrant when examining hundreds of computers that were reportedly used to access a secretive child pornography site that once had 150,000 users, the Star Tribune reported.

The FBI arrested the website’s operator and seized its server in 2015. The FBI kept a version of the website running and used software to gather IP addresses and other information about the site’s users. That information has been used in several criminal cases across the U.S.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Franklin Noel had recommended suppressing evidence against Terry Lee Carlson that was gathered during two searches of his Coleraine home in 2015 and 2016.

But Tunheim decided not to throw out the evidence, saying there weren’t any signs of FBI misconduct during the investigation. He cited a Supreme Court precedent and allowed the evidence to stand because the FBI “acted in good faith and generally followed proper procedures.”

Tunheim’s decision is similar to other federal court rulings that examined the constitutionality of the FBI search. A three-judge panel from the Eighth Circuit recently decided to reverse an Iowa judge’s decision to throw out evidence in a case that stemmed from the same operation.

Carlson is scheduled to go to trial in September on more than 10 child pornography charges. The FBI found evidence that Carlson produced and distributed child pornography, according to court documents. He was arrested in November and told law enforcement he had produced child pornography.

Carlson is among more than 900 people arrested in the pornography investigation.

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