Federal agents armed with a single search warrant will be able to hack millions of Americans’ computers unless Congress blocks a new rule from taking effect in December.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the change to federal criminal procedures is a huge increase in government surveillance authority and treats victims of cyber crime like attackers by making it easier for agents to hack their computers to gain evidence. He said Congress should weigh in on such a major policy change, and he will introduce a bill this month to block the rule.
“People ought to care because it’s a dramatic expansion of the government’s hacking and surveillance authority,” said Wyden, who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Wyden, along with privacy advocates, civil liberties groups and tech companies, is scrambling to inform members of Congress about the new rule, which was sought by the Justice Department, adopted by the U.S. Federal Courts, and approved on April 28 by the Supreme Court without much fanfare.
The Justice Department said the rule change is needed for two reasons: to help catch criminals who use technology to conceal their identities while engaging in crime on the Internet; and to investigate criminals’ use of “botnets”, a collection of computers that have been infected with malicious software and are controlled remotely by people seeking to steal financial data or other personal information.
Currently, the FBI must go to magistrates in every judicial district in which infected computers are known to be located to seek search warrants authorizing them to gain remote access to those machines, which may number in the millions and be scattered throughout the country. The change to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure would allow agents to go to just one judge to get a warrant to hack into all of those computers.
“Coordinating simultaneous warrant applications in many districts — or perhaps all 94 districts — requires a tremendous commitment of resources by investigators, and it also imposes substantial demands on many magistrate judges,” the U.S. Courts Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules wrote in support of the Justice Department’s request.
Critics worry that federal agents could go to the most sympathetic judges and bypass those who are more skeptical of government intrusion into Americans’ privacy.
“We could definitely see the government go forum-shopping for judges,” said Robyn Greene, policy counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute. “The bigger question here is should the government be engaged in hacking at all, and, if so, what should the rules of the road be? That’s something Congress should decide.”
“These are big issues; this is not just a garden-variety federal rule change,” Wyden said. “We’re talking about mass hacks. I’m doing everything I can to get members of Congress interested.”
While most Americans have been focused on the presidential election and that media whore Donald Trump, the feds have been busy looking for new ways to diminish our 1A rights, and here we go again – more and more invasions of our privacy, all done in the name of safety and security, of course. With the use of such a broad search warrant, hundreds of people can be hacked for the smallest of details that they interpret as a threat to the nation.
Naturally the DOJ and its researchers argue that it’s done only with probable cause and judicial oversight. Nicholas Weaver, an institute researcher who specializes in network security issues, including botnets said “You can argue the government shouldn’t be able to hack at all. But if the government is allowed to do such hacking with a warrant, the changes themselves appear to me quite reasonable.”
Of course it appears reasonable – that was their intent. Under O’s muslim-loving admin this will be grossly abused and God forbid, if we have a President Hillary, she’ll likely expand the use of such warrants. It’s well known she has no problems with destroying evidence if it benefits her.
It’s surprising that this ruckus is being stirred up by a Democrat senator since most Dems seek unending power, but it’s yet another example of band-aid legislation for a gushing wound. I hope he isn’t holding his breath while waiting for Congress to act.