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I want to do a thesis paper involving illegal online resources. I don't want to be persecuted for these things though. What are some of the steps I would need to take to legitimately go about researching said illegal areas of the internet. Who would I need to contact to gain permission to legally research these sources without any legal ramifications?

  • I think you have to be a bit more specific about the illegal activity. Certain viewpoints are illegal in certain countries but there are subversive websites breaking the law; there are sites that massively infringe copyright; there is child porn; there is trading in top secret information. I assume you're talking about infringment sites. Or, is it that you want to research a totally different topic and plan to use illegally-obtained material, on the theory that if it's for research it's okay? A bit of clarification would be useful. – user6726 May 7 '16 at 14:14
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You would start by seeking permission from your academic institution. If they approve it then they should employ their legal counsel to create a safe harbor for your work.

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Typically the Attorney General in the relevant jurisdiction can grant this sort of permission.

  • Although an AG cannot grant permission to violate copyright, or to break the law. They might be able to give advice about whether X is / is not legal. There's also the problem that there can be AGs for state and federal jurisdiction. – user6726 May 8 '16 at 14:10
  • In retrospect this isn't surprising, but state AGs are generally prohibited from giving opinions to private citizens: only select state officials have standing. An analogous restriction holds on the federal AG, which only responds to the executive branch. – user6726 May 8 '16 at 23:48

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