Freedom Hosting Owner Loses Yet Another Appeal

The alleged owner of Freedom Hosting, Eric Eoin Marques, lost his appeal aimed at throwing a wrench in his extradition to the United States where he faces numerous “child pornography” charges. The Gardaí arrested the Dublin man in 2014 after the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation formally requested his arrest and extradition to the U.S. Since his arrest, Marques has been delaying his extradition through numerous appeals that the courts have continually denied.

Marques, an Irishman in his 30s, allegedly owned and controlled Freedom Hosting, a hosting service for the majority of hidden services and .onion darknet sites in 2013. The FBI identified Marques as the owner of Freedom Hosting after executing their malware that identified Tor users by exploiting a memory management vulnerability present in some of the early versions of Firefox, including the version used as the backbone of the Tor Browser Bundle. (The exploit only targeted that version of Firefox; one of the early indicators that the FBI had launched the attack.) Although hidden services are not inherently against the law, drug markets and child abuse forums violate the laws of most countries. Similarly, hosting hidden services is legal in many countries. However, similar laws apply to both clearnet and darknet website hosting companies.

Moreover, Freedom Hosting, prior to its death, hosted almost 95 percent of the child abuse sites on the darknet. The hosting company was known for its “hands off” stance by the owners of any illegal site. The FBI accused Marques of intentionally turning a blind eye to the illegal sites hosted on Freedom Hosting servers and enabling the sites to thrive under his protection. For this, Marques was labelled the “world’s biggest facilitator of child pornography.” (The FBI themselves also earned a similar title for their ownership of the massive child abuse forum “Playpen.”)

The FBI accused Marques of accessing some of these child abuse sites. His charges, filed in a Maryland court, include conspiracy to distribute child pornography, aiding and abetting the advertising of child pornography, distributing child pornography, and advertising child pornography.

He appealed the extradition based on the need to remain in Dublin for treatment and support concerning his Asperger syndrome. Courts denied this appeal. He also challenged the Director of Public Prosecution’s decision not to charge him for the same crimes he will face in the United States. That challenge was dismissed. He then argued that the Minister of Justice never learned the reason that the DPP had decided not to prosecute him. The High Court dismissed the argument in late 2017. Most recently, Marques appealed the High Court’s ruling to the Court of Appeals. On June 19, 2018, the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal.

His lawyers have not announced a decision regarding an additional appeal to the Supreme Court.