The US Supreme Court has approved amendments to Rule 41, which now gives judges the authority to issue search warrants, not only for computers located in their jurisdiction but also outside their jurisdiction.
Under the original Rule 41, let’s say, a New York judge can only authorize the FBI to hack into a suspect’s computer in New York.
But the amended rule would now make it easier for the FBI to hack into any computer or network, literally anywhere in the world.
The FBI appeared to have been granted powers to hack any computer legally across the country, and perhaps anywhere in the world, with just a single search warrant authorized by any United States judge.
“These amendments will have significant consequences for Americans’ privacy and the scope of the government’s powers to conduct remote surveillance and searches of electronic devices,” Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said in a statement Thursday.
“Under the proposed rules, the government would now be able to obtain a single warrant to access and search thousands or millions of computers at once; and the vast majority of the affected computers would belong to the victims, not the perpetrators, of cybercrime.”
If Congress doesn’t act, the changes to the Rule 41 will take immediate effect in December despite opposition from technology giants and civil liberties groups who believes the changes would expand the FBI’s power to conduct mass hacks on computer networks.
The tech giants and civil liberties groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) say the change also could run afoul of the American Constitution’s protections against inappropriate searches and seizures.
The FBI Now Can Legally Hack TOR Users
Previously, under the Rule 41, magistrate judges could not approve search warrants to remotely hack or access computers outside their jurisdiction.
But with the rule change, magistrate judges could now issue orders to search or seize computers and electronic devices outside their local authority if the target’s location is unknown or if the target is using anonymity software like TOR.
More than a Million of Internet users make use of TOR anonymity software to browse the Web just to hide their actual identity for entirely legitimate reasons, in addition to criminals who use TOR to hide their locations.
Recently, the court threw out evidence that the FBI brought by hacking the members of the child pornography site PlayPen on the TOR network using its so-called Network Investigative Technique(NIT), explaining the feds violated Rule 41’s territorial restrictions.
This rule change would prevent something like that from happening, opening doors for the FBI to legally hack any computer in any country.
The Congress has time until 1 December 2016 to reject changes or make more changes to Rule 41, after which the amended version of the rule will take effect.