United States v. Bebris, No. 20-3291 (7th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Bebris sent child pornography over Facebook’s private user-to-user messaging system. Facebook licenses a “hashing” image recognition technology, PhotoDNA, developed by Microsoft. PhotoDNA provides the capability to scan images uploaded onto a company’s platform and compares the “hash” (or essence) of a photo with a database of known images of child pornography. Three of Bebris’s messages were flagged by PhotoDNA. Facebook employees reviewed the images and reported them to the CyberTipline of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as required by 18 U.S.C. 2258A(a), which then reported the images to Wisconsin law enforcement. Those officials obtained a warrant and searched Bebris’s residence, where they found a computer containing numerous child pornography files.
Bebris, charged federally with possessing and distributing child pornography., argued that the evidence should be suppressed, contending that Facebook took on the role of a government agent (subject to Fourth Amendment requirements) by monitoring its platform for child pornography and reporting that content. The district court denied his Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17(a) subpoena seeking pre-trial testimony from a Facebook employee with knowledge of Facebook’s use of PhotoDNA.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction. The subpoena sought cumulative testimony. The record included a written declaration from Microsoft and Facebook and live testimony from an executive at NCMEC, which administers the federal reporting system. Facebook did not act as a government agent in this case.